Something to Declare

Something to Declare

4.5 2
by Julia Alvarez

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In her first book of nonfiction, Julia Alvarez offers two dozen personal essays about the two major (and interlocking) issues of her life -- growing up with one foot in each of two cultures, and writing. In 1960, when Alvarez was 10 years old, her father's participation in a failed coup attempt against Rafael Trujillo, the repressive dictator of the Dominican Republic…  See more details below


In her first book of nonfiction, Julia Alvarez offers two dozen personal essays about the two major (and interlocking) issues of her life -- growing up with one foot in each of two cultures, and writing. In 1960, when Alvarez was 10 years old, her father's participation in a failed coup attempt against Rafael Trujillo, the repressive dictator of the Dominican Republic, resulted in the family's self-imposed exile to New York City, where Dr. Alvarez set up a medical practice in the Bronx while his wife and four daughters set about the serious business of assimilation. That uprooting formed the thematic basis for two of Julia Alvarez's novels. Her father's revolutionary ties inspired the third, the story of one of Trujillo's most infamous atrocities. Something To Declare is about the influences those experiences have had on her work, and about the practical lessons she's learned on her way to becoming the internationally acclaimed writer she now is.

Editorial Reviews

Laura Jamison
Reading Julia Alvarez's new collection is like curling up with a glass of wine in one hand and the phone in the other, listening to a big-hearted, wisecracking friend share her hard-earned wisdom about family, identity and the art of writing. -- People
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Having transformed her tumultuous life story -- a passage from childhood in the Dominican Republic and Queens, New York, to a career as a celebrated author and creative writing teacher -- into a body of startlingly lyrical fiction and poetry, Alvarez here chronicles that journey in nonfiction form. These 24 autobiographical essays are meant to answer various questions her readers have posed about her life and her writing. For Alvarez, these questions ultimately can be summed up in one line: 'Do you have anything more to declare?' The first section of the book, 'Customs,' paints with vibrant, earthy clarity -- in classic Alvarez style -- the author's Dominican girlhood, surrounded by the rich cast of characters that made up her extended family and the constant menace of dictator Rafael Trujillo's police state. She also describes her escape to the U.S. with her parents and sisters, along with the assimilation that made her a 'hyphenated American.' The seeds of her writerly beginnings are picked out here and then further explored in the second part of her book, 'Declarations.' These essays examine the difficult balance between the writing life and 'real life'; the joys of teaching; the daily process of writing; and an unsuccessful trip to Necedeh, Wisconsin, to research a potential novel. Alvarez also includes her 'ten commandments' for writing, which consist of some of the author's favorite quotes (beginning with a Zen saying and ending with Samuel Johnson's well-known credo, 'If you want to be a writer, then write. Write every day!'). Taken together, the pieces are as open and lively as Alvarez's readers have come to expect from her work, although the inspiration and guidance they offer to aspiring writers are less striking.
Library Journal
This first collection of essays, some previously published, by award-winning Hispanic American author Alvarez, ranges freely between her life as a child displaced by her family's flight from the Dominican Republic and her development as a writer. In two sections, she explores childhood memories of trying to become part of American society, her developing interest in writing -- encountering encouragement from a teacher and some discouragement from her family -- and the road to becoming a full-time writer. Along the way, she offers comments on teaching -- repeating Roethke's saying that teaching is 'one of the few professions that permit love -- and some advice for young writers, including the idea that 'we are here to learn a craft that truly takes all of life to learn. -- Nancy Shires, East Carolina University, Greenville, North Carolina
School Library Journal
YA-The poet and novelist brings together two dozen pithy autobiographical essays that are by turn humorous, thoughtful, or frightening. The first third of the book follows Alvarez's early Dominican childhood-when she was one of the wild cousins who was seated between well-behaved ones at family gatherings-through her family's immigration to the United States and their assimilation. Later essays take up the author's college years, budding career as a writer, marriages, and return trips to the Dominican Republic. Alvarez presents her personal experiences with a literary skill that converts them into universal moments. This book will delight her fans, attract new readers to her previous work, and open the possibility for discussions about experiences with emigration, immigration, growing apart from one's family, and discovering one's own career path and status as an adult.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Megan Harlan
As demonstrated in spry, inviting pieces concerning her writing process and hectically nomadic teaching life, Alvarez has clearly made her second language her own. --Entertainment Weekly
The Nation
[Alvarez is] a writer on a different kind of edge . . . who uses language skillfully to depict complex inner lives.
An honest and enlightening story that chronicles the evolution of an inscure adolescent immigrant from the Dominican Republic into a best-selling American novelist. . . .Aspiring writers will find it particularly instructive to follow the journey.

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Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.44(w) x 8.09(h) x 0.73(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt


I. In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind there are few.


II. The obligation of the artist is not to solve the problem but to state the problem correctly.


III. Do not be afraid!


IV. If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is inside you, what is inside you will destroy you.


V. Poetry presents the thing in order to convey the feeling. It should be precise about the thing and reticent about the feeling.


VI. One must write a poem the way one rules an empire, the way one cooks a small fish.


VII. El papel lo aguanta todo. (Paper holds everything.)


VIII. You must change your life.


IX. The function of freedom is to free someone else.


X. If you want to be a writer, than write. Write every day!


Excerpted from Something to Declare Copyright (c) 1998 Julia Alvarez. Reprinted by permission of Algonquin.

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Something to Declare 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Alvarez writes with a kindness and wit that combined, make for a very nice read. Definitely a feel-gooder
Ivelucy More than 1 year ago
Julia Alvarez lays it all out for those of us who love her writing...She is true to life and inspirational...