The Bookshelf

“How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” by Julia Alvarez


Julia Alvarez’s “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents” is an inside look into Dominican lifestyle and culture. The book covers the hardships faced during a family’s transition to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic. It also discusses the differences in culture, gender issues, racism and sexism. This book offers a personal narrative on the account of an immigrant, Alvarez herself.

The details about the García sisters’ lives and the challenges they face in the United States are impeccably communicated and well-placed. It feels as if you are with the family as they cross the border.

Fourth Estate/Billy Ferguson


Alavrez is clearly outspoken in her narrative on cultural issues in the Dominican Republic. One of the main issues she focuses on is the constant sexism that Dominican women face.

This book shows how women are actively shamed for having control over their own lives and making their own decisions.

At one point in the book, Carla, Sandra and Yolanda observe their sister’s relationship. “From this new distance, we begin to get the long view, and it’s not so pretty. Lovable Manuel is quite the tyrant, a mini Papi and Mami rolled into one. Fifi can’t wear pants in public. Fifi can’t talk to another man. Fifi can’t leave the house without his permission. And what’s most disturbing is that Fifi, feisty, lively Fifi, is letting this man tell her what she can and cannot do.”

This book is set in a time frame — the 1950s to late ‘80s — in which these concepts of domesticity were generally held.

The novel also shows how tradition can be both a good and bad thing. This is specifically evident when the sisters in the story — Yolanda, Sofia, Carla and Sandra — grow up and experiment with their sexuality, defying the notion that one should wait to be married to have sex. In one instance, the youngest sister Sofia goes on trip and her father discovers evidence of her having sexual relations with a man. As a result, he disowns Sofia and refuses to speak to her for years.

This book offers insight into issues like sexism in the Dominican Republic and how its normalization only damages the generations to come. Overall, this book acts as a commentary on how traditions have the potential to dictate one’s life. Using the sisters’ stories, Alvarez makes the case that people should embrace freedom and be themselves.

She is a revolutionary writer who finds democracy at the table of writing where she has a seat. “Every choice, ask yourself is this going to be a soul-making or soul-selling choice?” Alvarez wrote. “Don’t settle for less. That’s what a life is for. Be what you long to be.”