Yo! (Spanish Language Edition)

Overview

Yolanda Garcia—su apodo es Yo—ha demostrado que es una escritora con una muy exitosa primera novela cuyos "personajes" son su familia, sus amigos y sus amantes. Mientras Yo goza de su celebridad, sus seres queridos se encuentran "desnudos" y reconocibles ante el mundo en su nueva vida publica. Cual es el resultado? Aquellos que fueron "victimizados por la ficcion" quieren contar su lado de la historia. Y asi mismo lo hacen en esta. La nueva novela de Julia Alvarez, alegre, conmovedora y bien concebida, Yo! se ...

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Overview

Yolanda Garcia—su apodo es Yo—ha demostrado que es una escritora con una muy exitosa primera novela cuyos "personajes" son su familia, sus amigos y sus amantes. Mientras Yo goza de su celebridad, sus seres queridos se encuentran "desnudos" y reconocibles ante el mundo en su nueva vida publica. Cual es el resultado? Aquellos que fueron "victimizados por la ficcion" quieren contar su lado de la historia. Y asi mismo lo hacen en esta. La nueva novela de Julia Alvarez, alegre, conmovedora y bien concebida, Yo! se trata del conflicto entre el arte y la realidad, el intelecto y las emociones, y el aculturamiento en los Estados Unidos y sus propias raices dominicanas. Aqui, las tres hermanas de Yo, su mama y su papa, sus abuelos, tias, tios, primos y esposos protagonizan sus versiones de la verdadera vida de Yo. Alvarez hace que les creamos a todos y la indomable Yo, cuyo impulso creativo esta arraigado en sus recuerdos infantiles y sus dos contrastantes culturas.

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Editorial Reviews

Sally Eckhoff

Here's a newish angle on an old theme: a fictional biography of a person you'll probably never want to meet. Yolanda Garcia (Yo for short) is charming, soulful, a bit of a screwball. Her folks and her sisters — plus assorted aunts and uncles back in the Dominican Republic where she was born — adore her. But the grownup American Yo is an irritant, a born loudmouth and fibber whose specialty is getting other people into trouble. In other words, she's a writer, one of those people who, as Joan Didion said, is "always selling somebody short."

You don't have to share Yo's literary ambitions to understand her witchy charm. Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In The Time of the Butterflies, has a nearly irresistible way of portraying her poet-subject. Each chapter of this book is told from a different person's point of view, as if they all sat down with a tape recorder after a couple of drinks and uncorked their hidden agitations. Yo's mother, her frou-frou cousin Lucinda, the caretakers at Yo's old family place in the D.R. and a number of interested men are invited to spill the beans. Even her crazy stalker, a man she doesn't know, gets to have his say. They all believe she's selfish, yet undoubtedly trusting and kind. When Yo's (very personal) books get popular, though, these same people find themselves naked to the world, and they hate it. Still, they forgive her, because Yo has a knack for reconnecting people to the parts of themselves they've forgotten. She might even have the same effect on you.

Alvarez's style is blunt, but so light and eager it's absolutely captivating. Her eye for psychological detail can move the heart. And she's funny, too. Just one snag: Is writing such a sacred calling that it justifies Yo's casual destructiveness? At this book's least convincing moments, Alvarez comes close to saying yes. It's when she lets you consider her subject as a small, disobedient planet in the human galaxy that Yo! sheds the most light. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The opening chapter of Alvarez's splendid sequel to her first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, is so exuberant and funny, delivered in such rattle-and-snap dialogue, that readers will think they are in for a romp. It is narrated by Sandi, one of the four Garcia sisters whom we encounter again three decades after they emigrated to the States from the political dictatorship of the Dominican Republic. As will all the other narrators in this richly textured narrative, Sandi focuses on her sister Yolanda, "Yo,'' the object of much bitterness and resentment in the family since she has begun to use their lives as material for the books she writes. In the succeeding sections, we flash back to Yo's first years in America, her school and college days, when she exuded pizzazz and potential as a brilliant, if capricious, student obviously destined for a spectacular career. Slowly the canvas darkens, as various people in her life (a cousin on "the island,'' the daughter of the family's maid, a college professor who is her mentor) create a composite picture of a clever, impetuous, initially strong-willed-but progressively self-doubting and insecure-woman who has lost her early promise. Instead of achieving emotional and professional fulfillment, at 33 Yo is lonely, unfocused, twice divorced, childless and still searching for her identity. Then come several surprising plot twists that leave Yo free to find her destiny. In addition to revealing the details of Yo's complicated life, the 15 chapters are also fully nuanced portraits of their quite varied narrators, whose own experiences range from adventurous to quietly heart-wrenching. Alvarez's's command of Latino voices has always been impeccable, but here she is equally adept at conveying the personalities of a geographically diverse group of Americans as well: an obese woman abused by her blue-collar husband, an ex-football player and an aging Southern hippy, among others. But it is Yo, rocketing among lovers, husbands, self-doubts, shortlived enthusiasms, dead-end jobs and the first tentative satisfactions of a career, whom we get to know obliquely but fully as she belatedly finds the center of her existence. Though her sisters have become fully Americanized, Yo has been the victim of cultural dislocation and of a submerged childhood memory revealed only in the last chapter; she has become a stranger to herself. Alvarez's canny, often tart-tongued appraisals of two contrasting cultures, her inspired excursions into the hearts of her vividly realized characters, are a triumph of imaginative virtuosity. This is an entrancing novel, at once an evocation of a complex heroine and a wise and compassionate view of life's vicissitudes and the chances for redemption.
Library Journal
Offerings in fiction represent a fine mix, from titles already published here in English (the works by Alvarez, Bencastro, Escand n, and Ferr ) to works due in English this fall (Allende's first fiction in many years) to Fuentes's latest, a recapitulation of 20th-century Mexico centered on the passionate and provocative Laura Diaz. Arte P blico continues its fine effort to restore lost Hispanic classics, written in what is now the United States from the colonial era until today, with a tale by Venegas dating from 1928. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Fans of Alvarez's debut, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (LJ 5/1/91), should be particularly interested in this intricately constructed, vivid new novel, but familiarity with the earlier book is no prerequisite for enjoyment. Brief episodes, each with a different narrator, coalesce into a portrait of Yolanda -- driven writer, blithe philanthropist -- the feistiest and most perplexing of the Garcia sisters. Yo's parents, a cousin, a husband, a landlady, servants, even a stalker contribute views of Yo's life from childhood to middle age in the Dominican Republic, New York City, and New England. These memorable, deeply interrelated short pieces introduce many alluring vignettes for the one story they combineuneasily and ingeniouslyto complete. The whole is as frustrating as it is satisfying but has much to recommend it: singular, well-realized characters; luminescent moments of story; Alvarez's artistry and poise. A fine addition for any fiction collection.Janet Ingraham, Worthington P.L., Ohio
School Library Journal
YA-Yolanda Garcia, the creative third sister from the popular How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Algonquin, 1991), is the central character in this novel approach to fiction. Never monopolizing any one chapter, Yo is central to all of them. In 16 different stories, each titled with a literary genre or concept, her personality and talent emerge and develop through the viewpoints of those around her. Yo has been a teller of stories from her earliest years. She flits from an aborted academic career to working with prisoners, senior citizens, and children and finally to becoming a writer. She reaches out to those around her and touches them in subtle ways. Her culture and personality are intertwined. The family's Dominican roots surface through the stories told by Yo's mother, father, cousin, and the maid's daughter while the caretakers and farmer living in the Dominican Republic link Yo's past with her future and its immutable tie to her heritage. Alvarez draws sharp contrasts between cultures, economic status, and mythical beliefs in America and on the island. The underlying theme of the value of storytellers to a family's history is the final resolution in this well-crafted, entertaining, and provocative book.Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews

The devilish Garcia girls are back, in a warm, complex, rich and colorful third novel (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, 1991; In the Time of the Butterflies, 1994).

The focus is once again on the character of Yo, the oldest and seemingly boldest of the four little girls transplanted from the Dominican Republic to New York in the 1950s, when the upper-class Dominican Garcias fled their home to escape Trujillo's bloody reign. Yo, destined to become an autobiographical poet and novelist, is in trouble with her family when this latest novel begins for having published family secrets—writing about their mother's sneaky methods of scaring her young girls into obeying her, for example, and of their father's enjoyment of skiing naked. But, then, Yo's always been in trouble for telling the truth: When Trujillo was at his most treacherous, Yo's mother remembers, the seven-year-old girl discovered a gun in her father's closet and told a neighbor, a bishop loyal to the government. That led to the family's emigration. This time out the people that Yo, now in her mid-40s and a famous writer, has written about get to tell their side of the story. Her sisters, mother, old-fashioned, gallant father, ex-boyfriends, former professors, best friends, childhood nanny, and Dominican cousins—all remember and reflect on the kind, headstrong, superstitious, needy, fearful, or impulsive Yo they've known at various ages and stages of her life. The voices of Yo's family and friends are magical, and the details of life—first in Dominica, where the Garcias' wealth and social standing made daily life even under the dictatorship seem luxurious and safe, and then inthe hard years in New York—are fascinating, though the stories told here are sometimes puzzling and contradictory. Still, the writing, as always, is animated and wonderfully imaginative; the characters jump off the page.

A must-read for Alvarez's many fans.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780452281400
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/1999
  • Language: Spanish
  • Edition description: Spanish-language Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 774,711
  • Age range: 18 years
  • Product dimensions: 5.38 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Julia  Alvarez

Julia Alvarez is the author of the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies (a national Book Critics Circle Award finalist), and Yo!. She has also published two poetry collections (Homecoming and The Other side/El Otro Lado) and a collection of essays (Something to Declare).

Biography

Julia Alvarez was born in New York City during her Dominican parents' "first and failed" stay in the United States. While she was still an infant, the family returned to the Dominican Republic -- where her father, a vehement opponent of the Trujillo dictatorship, resumed his activities with the resistance. In 1960, in fear for their safety, the Alvarezes fled the country, settling once more in New York.

Alvarez has often said that the immigrant experience was the crucible that turned her into a writer. Her struggle with the nuances of the English language made her deeply conscious of the power of words, and exposure to books and reading sharpened both her imagination and her storytelling skills. She graduated summa cum laude from Middlebury College in 1971, received her M.F.A. from Syracuse University, and spent the next two decades in the education field, traveling around the country with the poetry-in-the-schools program and teaching English and Creative Writing to elementary, high school, and college students.

Alvarez's verse began to appear in literary magazines and anthologies, and in 1984, she published her first poetry collection, Homecoming. She had less success marketing her novel -- a semiautobiographical story that traced the painful assimilation of a Dominican family over a period of more than 30 eventful years. A series of 15 interconnected stories that unfold in reverse chronological order, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents addresses, head-on, the obstacles and challenges immigrants face in adapting to life in a new country.

It took some time for "ethnic" literature to gain enough of a foothold in the literary establishment for Alvarez's agent, a tireless champion of minority authors, to find a publisher. But when the novel was released in 1991, it received strongly positive reviews. And so, at the tender age of 41, Alvarez became a star. Three years later, she proved herself more than a "one-hit wonder," when her second novel, In the Time of Butterflies was nominated for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award. Since then, she has made her name as a writer of remarkable versatility, juggling novels, poetry, children's books, and nonfiction with equal grace and aplomb. She lives in Vermont, where she serves as a writer in residence at her alma mater, Middlebury College. In addition, she and her husband run a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic that hosts a school to teach the local farmers and their families how to read and write.

Good To Know

From 1975 until 1978, Alvarez served as Poet-in-the-Schools in Kentucky, Delaware, and North Carolina.

She has held positions as a professor of creative writing and English at Phillips Andover Academy in Massachusetts (1979-81), the University of Vermont (1981-83), and the University of Illinois (1985-88).

In 1984, Alvarez was the Jenny McKean Moore Visiting Writer at George Washington University. Currently, she is a professor of English at Middlebury College.

She and her husband run a coffee farm, Alta Gracia, in the Dominican Republic.

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    1. Hometown:
      Middlebury, Vermont
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 27, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      B.A., Middlebury College, 1971; M.F.A., Syracuse University, 1975

Table of Contents

Prologo
Las hermanas / Ficcion 13
Parte 1
La madre / Testimonio 39
La prima / Poesia 62
La hija de la sirvienta / Informe 92
El profesor / Romance 123
La desconocida / Epistola 162
Parte 2
Los encargados / Revelacion 183
La mejor amiga / Motivacion 211
La casera / Confrontacion 242
El estudiante / Variacion 270
El pretendiente / Desenlace 297
Parte 3
Los invitados a la boda / Perspectiva 335
El sereno / Ambientacion 379
El tercer marido / Caracterizacion 405
El acosador / Entonacion 434
El padre / Conclusion 456
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First Chapter

The mother

nonfiction

To tell you the truth, the hardest thing coming to this country wasn't the winter everyone warned me about--it was the language. If you had to choose the most tongue-twisting way of saying you love somebody or how much a pound for the ground round, then say it in English. For the longest time I thought Americans must be smarter than us Latins--because how else could they speak such a difficult language. After a while, it struck me the other way. Given the choice of languages, only a fool would choose to speak English on purpose.

I guess for each one in the family it was different what was the hardest thing. For Carlos, it was having to start all over again at forty-five, getting a license, setting up a practice. My eldest Carla just couldn't bear that she wasn't the know-it-all anymore. Of course, the Americans knew their country better than she did. Sandi got more complicated, prettier, and I suppose that made it hard on her, discovering she was a princess just as she had lost her island kingdom. Baby Fifi took to this place like china in a china shop, so if anything, the hardest thing for her was hearing the rest of us moan and complain. As for Yo, I'd have to say the hardest thing about this country was being thrown together in such close proximity with me.

Back on the island we lived as a clan, not as what is called here the nuclear family, which already the name should be a hint that you're asking for trouble cooping up related tempers in the small explosive chambers of each other's attention. The girls used to run with their gang of cousins, supervised--if you can call it that--by a whole bunch of aunts and nanny-maids who had wiped our bottoms when we were babies and now were wiping the drool of the old people who had hired them half a century ago. There was never any reason to clash with anyone. You didn't get along with your mother? You had two sisters, one brother-in-law, three brothers and their wives, thirteen nieces and nephews, a husband, your own kids, two great-aunts, your father, a bachelor uncle, a deaf poor relation, and a small army of housemaids to mediate and appease--so that if you muttered under your breath, "You bitch!" by the time it got to your mother it would sound something like, "Pass the mango dish, please."

And this was true for Yo and me.

Back there, that one was mostly raised by the maids. She seemed to like to hang around them more than she did her own kin, so that if she had been darker, I would have thought she was a changeling that got switched with my own flesh and blood. True, from time to time we did have our run-downs--not even three, four dozen people could always block the clashing of our two strong wills.

But I had a trick that I played back then, not just on her, but on all my girls, to make them behave. I called it putting on the bear. Of course, by the time we left the island, it no longer worked there, and it was only by mistake that it worked once here.

It started innocently enough. My mother had given me a mink coat she used to wear when she and my father were traveling a lot to New York for vacations away from the dictatorship. I kept it at the back of the walk-in closet, thinking maybe someday we would escape the hell we were living in, and I'd get to wear that coat into freedom. Often I thought about selling it. I hadn't married a rich man and we were always short on money.

But every time I got ready to sell it, I don't know. I'd bury my nose in that tickling fur that still held the smell of my mother's perfume. I'd imagine myself walking down Fifth Avenue with lights twinkling in the shop windows and snowflakes coming down so pretty, and I just couldn't bear to part with the coat. I'd slip the plastic cover back over it and think, I'll hold on to it a while longer.

Then one Christmas, I thought it'd be kind of neat to dress up for all the kids. So I draped this coat over my head with a bit of my face poking out, and the rest of the fur falling all the way down to my calves. I had some story worked out that Santa Claus couldn't make it down from the North Pole, so he had sent one of his bears instead.

My girls and their cousins took one look at me and it was like sheets hitting a fan. They screamed and ran. No one could be coaxed to come forward for a present. Finally, Carlos pantomined chasing me off with a broom, and as I hurried away, I dropped my pillowcase of goodies. Minutes later, when I walked back in, dressed in my red organdy, the girls ran to me, "Mami! Mami! El cuco was here!" El cuco was the Haitian boogeyman I had told them would come and steal them away if they didn't behave.

"Really?" I said, miming surprise. "What did you do?"

The girls looked at each other, big-eyed. What could they have done but avoid being mouthfuls for a monster with an appetite for their toys. But Yo piped up, "I beat him and chased him away!"

Here was a little problem that was not going to go away by itself. Often, I put Tabasco in that mouth hoping to burn away the lies that seemed to spring from her lips. For Yo, talking was like an exercise in what you could make up. But that night was Christmas Eve, and the dictatorship seemed far away in some storybook about cucos, and Carlos looked so handsome in his white guayabera, like a rich plantation owner in an American ad for coffee beans or cigars. Besides I felt pleased with my little trick.

From then on, especially when I heard them fighting, I threw that coat over my head and went hooting down the hall. I'd burst into their room, swinging my arms, calling out their names, and they'd scream, holding on to each other, whatever fight they had been in the middle of forgotten. Step by step, I approached, until they were at the edge of hysterics, their little faces pale and their eyes wide with terror. Then I flung the coat off and threw out my arms, "It's me, Mami!"

For a minute, even though they could see it was me, they hung back, unconvinced.

Maybe it was a mean thing to do, I don't know. After a few times, what I was really trying to do was see if my girls had any sense at all. I thought for sure they would catch on. But no, each time, I fooled them. And I began to feel angry at them for being so slow.

Yo figured it out, finally. Maybe she was five, six--I don't know. All those years have mixed together like an old puzzle whose box top is lost. (I don't even know anymore what picture all those little pieces make.) As usual, I went howling into the girls' bedroom. But this time, Yo broke loose, came right up to me, and yanked that coat off my head. "See," she said, turning to the others. "It is just Mami like I told you."

It was no surprise to me that she was the one who caught on.

Back in my room, I was returning the coat when I noticed someone had been poking around in the closet. My shoes were scattered every which way, a hat box knocked over. That closet wasn't just any walk-in closet. It had once been a hallway between the master bedroom and Carlos's study, but we had closed it off on both sides in order to make a closet you could enter from either room. It was almost always locked on account of we kept everything valuable there. I suppose at the back of our minds, Carlos and I always knew that one day we would have to leave the island in a hurry and that it would be handy to have our cash and valuables on hand. And so, I was fit to be fried seeing signs that someone had been rifling through our hiding place.

Then it came to me who our intruder had been--Yo! Earlier, I had seen her in Carlos's study, looking over the medical books her father let her play with. She must have gone in our closet, and that's how she had figured out the fur was just a fur. I was ready to call her in and give her a large serving of my right hand when I saw that the floorboards close to the study side had been pried open and not exactly wedged back in place. I crawled in under the clothes with a flashlight and lifted one of those boards. It was my turn to go pale--stashed inside and wrapped in one of my good towels was a serious-looking gun.

You can bet when Carlos came home, I threatened to leave him right then and there if he didn't tell me what he was up to. I found out more than I wanted to know.

"No harm done," Carlos kept saying. "I'll just move it to another location tonight." And he did, wrapping it inside my fur coat and laying the bundle on the back seat of the Buick like he was going off to sell that coat after all. He came back late that night, the coat over his arm, and it wasn't until the next morning as I was hanging it up that I found the oil stains on the lining. They looked just like dried blood.

After that, I was a case all right. Nights, I was up to four sleeping pills to numb myself into a few hours of the skimpiest sleep. Days I took Valium to ease that jumpy feeling. It was hell on the wheels of our marriage having me down so much of the time. Worst were the migraines I got practically every afternoon. I'd have to lie down in that small, hot bedroom with the jalousies angled shut and a wet towel on my face. Far off, I could hear the kids yelling in their bedroom, and I'd wish I could squeeze that bear trick one more time to terrify them into silence.

Lots of worries went through my pounding head those afternoons. One of them that kept hammering away was that Yo had been snooping around in that closet. If she had seen that hidden gun, it was just a matter of time before she'd tell someone about it. Already I could see the SIM coming to the door to drag us away. One afternoon when I just couldn't stand it anymore, I leapt out of my bed and called down the hall for her to come to my room this instant.

She must have thought she was going to get it about all the loud bickering coming from their bedroom. She hurried down the hall already defending herself that she had plucked off Fifi's baby doll's head only because Fifi had asked her to. "Hush now," I said, "it's not about that!" That stopped her short. She hung back at the door, looking around my bedroom like maybe she wasn't so sure the bear was nothing but her mother in a fur coat after all.

I gave her a little pep talk in a soft voice--the way you talk to babies as you stroke them till their eyes drift shut. I told her Papa Dios in heaven could see into every one of our souls. He knew when we were good and when we were bad. When we lied and when we told the truth. That He could have asked us to do whatever He wanted, but out of all the hundred million things, He had only chosen ten holy commandments for us to obey. And one of those ten was honor thy father and mother which meant you shouldn't lie to them.

"So always, always, you must tell your mami the truth. I served her a big smile of which she only returned a little slice back. She knew something else was coming. She sat on the bed, watching me. Just as she had seen through the fur to her mother, now she was looking through her mother to the scared woman inside. I let out a long sigh, and said, "Now, cuca darling, Mami wants you to tell her what things you saw when you went looking in the closet the other day."

"You mean the big closet?" she said, pointing down the passageway that led from the master bedroom to the walk-in closet and right through to her father's study.

"That very one," I said. The migraine was hammering away inside my head, building its big house of pain.

She looked at me like she knew that admitting she had been snooping would get her into a closet full of trouble. So, I promised her that telling the truth this time would make her my and God's little darling.

"I saw your coat." she said.

"That's very good," I said. "That's what I mean. What else did you see in Mami's closet?"

"Your funny shoes," she remarked. She meant the heels with little holes pockmarked in the leather.

"Excellent!" I said. "Mami's darling. What else?"

She went through that whole closet with the full inventory of practically every piece of clothing I owned. My God, I thought, give her another decade and she could work for the SIM. I lay there, listening because what else could I do? If she hadn't really seen anything, I didn't want to put any ideas in her head. That one had a mouth from here to China going the long way like Columbus's ships.

"How about the floor?" I asked stupidly. "Did you see anything in the floor?"

She shook her head in a way that didn't convince me. I went back over the ten commandments and not lying to thy mother, and still I couldn't flush any more information from her except my monogrammed hankies and, oh yes, my nylons in a pleated plastic case. I finally made her promise that if she remembered anything else, she should come and tell Mami directly and no one else. "It will be our little secret," I whispered to her.

Just as she was slipping out the door, she turned around and said a curious thing. "Mami, the bear won't be coming anymore." It was as if she were stating her part of our bargain. "Honey cuca," I said. "Remember, Mami was the one playing the bear. It was just a silly joke. But no," I promised her, "that bear's gone for good. Okay?" She nodded her approval.

As soon as the door latched shut I cried into my pillow. My head was hurting so much. I missed not having nice things, money and freedom. I hated being at the mercy of my own child, but in that house we were all at the mercy of her silence from that day on.

Isn't a story a charm? All you have to say is, And then we came to the United States, and with that and then, you skip over four more years of disappearing friends, sleepless nights, house arrest, narrow escape, and then, you've got two adults and four wired-up kids in a small, dark apartment near Columbia University. Yo must have kept her mouth shut or no charm would have worked to get us free of the torture chambers we kept telling the immigration people about so they wouldn't send us back.

Not being one hundred percent sure we would get to stay--that was the hardest thing at the beginning. Even the problem with the English language seemed like a drop in a leaky bucket then. It was later that I got to thinking English was the hardest thing of all for me. But believe me, back then at the beginning, I had my hands too full to be making choices among our difficulties.

Carlos was morose. All he could think about was the companeros he had left behind. I kept asking him what else he could have done but stay to die with them. He was studying like cats and dogs for his license exam. We were living on the low end of the hog off what little savings we had left, and there was no money coming in. I was worried how I was going to pay for the warm clothes my kids would be needing once the cold weather set in.

The last thing I needed was their whining and fighting. Every day it was the same question, "When are we going to go back?" Now that we were far away and I wasn't afraid of their blurting things out, I tried to explain. But it was as if they thought I was lying to them with a story to make them behave. They'd listen, but as soon as I was done, they'd start in again. They wanted to go back to their cousins and uncles and aunts and the maids. I thought they would feel more at home once school began. But September, October, November, December passed by, and they were still having nightmares and nagging me all the long days that they wanted to go back. Go back. Go back. Go back.

I resorted to locking them in closets. That old-fashioned apartment was full of them, deep closets with glass knobs and those keyholes like in cartoons for detectives to look through and big iron keys with the handle part shaped like a fleur-de-lis. I always used the same four closets, a small one in the girls' bedroom and the big one in mine, the broom closet in the hall, and finally the coat closet in the living room. Which child went into which depended on who I grabbed first where.

I wouldn't leave them in there for long. Believe me. I'd go from door to door, like a priest taking confession, promising to let them out the minute they calmed down and agreed to live in peace. I don't know how it happened that Yo never got the coat closet until that one time that I lived to regret.

I had shut them all up and gone round, letting out the baby first, then the oldest, who was always so outraged. Then the two middle kids, first Sandi. When I got to Yo's door, I didn't get an answer. That scared me, and I opened that door quick. There she stood, pale with fright. And, ay, I felt so terrible!--she had gone in her pants.

That damn mink coat was in that closet, way to one side, but of course, being Yo, she'd gone poking around in the dark. She must have touched the fur and lost her bananas. I don't understand because it had seemed she knew the fur was just a coat. Maybe she associated me being under that coat, and here I was on one side of the door, and there she was alone on the other side with a monster she was sure we had left behind in the Dominican Republic.

I pulled her out and into the bathroom. She didn't cry. No--just that low moan kids do when they go deep inside themselves looking for the mother you haven't turned out to be for them. All she said that whole time I was trying to clean her up was, "You promised that bear was gone for good."

I got weepy myself. "You girls are the bears! And here I thought all our troubles would end when we got here." I laid down my head on my arms on the side of the bathtub, and I started bawling. "Ay, Mami, ay," the other three joined in. They had come to the door of the bathroom to see what was going on. "We promise we'll be good."

Not Yo. She stood up in the water and grabbed a towel, then stomped out of the tub. When she was out of my reach, she cried, "I don't want to be in this crazy family!"

Even back then, she always had to have the last word.

Not a week later a social worker at the school, Sally O'Brien, calls up and asks to make a house visit. The minute I get off the phone, I interrogate my girls about what they might have said to this lady. But they all swear that they have nothing to confess. I warn them if this lady gives us a bad report we'll be sent back, and if we are sent back, cucos and bears are going to be stuffed animals compared to the SIM fieras that will tear us apart there. I send them off to put on their matching polka dot dresses I made them for coming to the United States. And then I do what I haven't done in our six months here. I take a Valium to give this lady a good impression.

In she comes, a tall lady in flat black shoes with straps and a blond braid down her back like a schoolgirl dressed in an old lady's suit. She has a pleasant, un-made-up face and eyes so blue and sincere you know they've yet to see the worst things in the world. She carries a satchel with little hearts painted on it. Out of it she pulls a long yellow tablet with our name already written on it. "Is it all right if I take some notes?"

"Of course, Mrs. O'Brien." I don't know if she is a married woman but I've decided to compliment her with a husband even if she doesn't have one.

"Will your husband be joining us?" she asks, looking around the room. I follow her glance since I am sure she is checking out whether the place looks clean and adequate for raising four girls. The coat closet I forgot to shut looms like a torture chamber.

"My husband just received his medical license. So he has been working like a god every day, even Sunday," I add, which she writes down in her notepad. "We have been through hard times." I've already decided that I won't try to pretend that we're having a ball in America, though believe it or not, that was my original plan on how to handle this visit. I thought it would sound more patriotic.

"That must be a relief!" she says, nodding her head and looking at me. Everything she says it's like she just put the rattle in the baby's hand and is waiting to see what the baby is going to do with it.

I shake it, good and hard. "We are free at last," I tell her. "Thanks to this great country which has offered us the green cards. We cannot go back," I add. "It would be certain death."

Her eyes blink at this, and she makes a note. "I read things in the paper," she says, bringing her braid from behind to fall down the front of her suit. She doesn't seem the nervous type, but the way she keeps minding that braid it's like she is getting paid to keep it occupied. "But are things really that bad?"

And right then and there in my broken English that usually cuts my ideas down to the wrong size, I fill her two ears full with what is happening back on the island--homes raided, people hauled off, torture chambers, electric prods, attacks by dogs, fingernails pulled out. I get a little carried away and invent a few tortures of my own--nothing the SIM hadn't thought up, I'm sure. As I talk, she keeps wincing until her hands go up to her forehead like she has caught one of my migraines. In a whisper she says, "This is truly awful. You must be so worried about the rest of your family."

I can't trust my voice to say so. I give her a little nod.

"But what I don't get is how the girls keep saying they want to go back. That things were better there."

"They are sick of home--" I explain, but that doesn't sound right.

"Homesick, yes," she says.

I nod. "They are children. They do not see the forest or the trees."

"I understand." She says it so nicely that I am convinced that even with those untried blue eyes, she does understand. "They can't know the horror you and your husband have lived through."

I try to keep the tears back, but of course they come. What this lady can't know is that I'm not just crying about leaving home or about everything we've lost, but about what's to come. It's not really until now with the whole clan pulled away like the foundation under a house that I wonder if the six of us will stand together.

"I understand, I understand," she keeps saying until I get control of myself. "We're just concerned because the girls seem so anxious. Especially Yolanda."

I knew it! "Has she been telling stones?"

The lady nods slowly. "Her teacher says she loves stories. But some of the ones she tells, well--" She lets out a sigh. She tosses her braid behind her back like she doesn't want it to hear this. "Frankly, they are a little disturbing."

"Disturbing?" I ask. Even though I know what the word means, it sounds worse coming out of this woman's mouth.

"Oh, she's been mentioning things ..." The lady waves her hand vaguely. "Things like what you were describing. Kids locked in closets and their mouths burned with lye. Bears mauling little children." She stops a moment, maybe because of the shocked look on my face.

"It doesn't surprise me," the woman explains. "In fact, I'm glad she's getting it all out."

"Yes," I say. And suddenly, I am feeling such envy for my daughter, who is able to speak of what terrifies her. I myself can't find the words in English--or Spanish. Only the howling of the bear I used to impersonate captures some of what I feel.

"Yo has always been full of stories." I say it like an accusation.

"Oh, but you should be proud of her," the lady says, bringing her braid forward like she is going to defend Yo with it.

"Proud?" I say in disbelief, ready to give her all the puzzle pieces of my mind so she gets the full picture. But then, I realize it is no use. How can this lady with her child's eyes and her sweet smile understand who I am and what I have been through? And maybe this is a blessing after all. That people only know the parts we want to tell about ourselves. Look at her. Inside that middle-aged woman is a nervous girl playing with her braid. But how that girl got stuck in there, and where the key is to let her out, maybe not even she can tell?

"Who knows where Yo got that need to invent," I finally say because I don't know what else to say.

"This has been very helpful, Laura," she says, standing up to go. "And I want you to know if there's anything we can do to help you all in settling in, please don't hesitate to call." She hands me a little card, not like our calling cards back home with all your important family names in fancy gold lettering. This one shows her name and title and the name of the school and her phone number in black print.

"Let me call the girls to say goodbye."

She smiles when they come out in their pretty, ironed dresses, curtsying like I taught them. And as she bends to shake each one's hand, I glance down at her pad on the coffee table and read the notes she has jotted: Trauma/dictatorship/family bonds strong/mother devoted.

For a moment I feel redeemed as if everything we are suffering and everything we will suffer is the fault of the dictatorship. I know this will be the story I tell in the future about those hard years--how we lived in terror, how the girls were traumatized by the experience, how many nights I got up to check on their blankets and they screamed if I touched them.

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, May 26th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Julia Alvarez to discuss ¡YO!.


Moderator: Tonight Julia Alvarez joins us to discuss her acclaimed book ¡YO! and the Spanish edition of IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES (recently published). ¡YO! is a hilarious novel that is the sequel to her book HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS. Welcome, Julia Alvarez! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?

Julia Alvarez: Fine! This is my first online interview. I am interested and curious.


Sarah from Alexandria, VA: Your character Yolanda Garcia and you have a lot in common -- both of you are immigrants from the Dominican Republic and writers. Would you say this character is autobiographical? Isn't yo the Spanish word for "I"?

Julia Alvarez: Well, of course I am playing with that, because I think that all characters come out of the well of their mind and hearts. I write about the people whom we are going to find out about -- the yo, or I. Of course, Yo is a part of me, but she is not me. I would not be so coy to call it fiction and not memoir. But I am certainly playing with that. What is called fiction and where the true story begins is what I am concerned with. I feel that fiction tells the truth more than the facts do. When you are writing, you are in the service of the story, not in the tyranny of what really happened. You enter the reality of the novel. Also, I think if you write about characters that are not included in literature -- a little girl in Latin America for example -- people think you are writing about yourself, because these are not the traditional characters in literature. These creations come out of your experience, what you have read, what you are really interested in.


Leslie Taylor from San Francisco: All of the characters of this book have such distinct voices and tell such great stories. Why did you choose to have so many narrators describe Yo? What were the advantages of this method?

Julia Alvarez: Well, I think that part of the strategy of the novel was to give the voice to the little people; like Andy Warhol said, we are all meant to get our moment of fame. These people don't usually get their point of view across, so this is a chance for them to tell their story in the form of the writer who usually tells the story of them. It comes out of themselves. In other words, we really find out about these characters and their stories.

I wrote a lot more voices that were not included in the book. There were some that overlapped a lot, and it was a process of finding out which would tell the whole story of what I wanted to tell -- which ones would create the quilting I was making of all these characters. I have been accused of not wanting to write about men, and that was part of the challenge in this book (for example, the stalker). There is a curiosity in the writer to take in all the stories. People focus on whether this book is about Yo or Alvarez, but this is really a book about storytelling.


Colleen from Portland, Maine: Are the sisters in ¡YO! and HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS based on real sisters? Perhaps your own?

Julia Alvarez: I certainly come from a family of sisters, so I understand that kind of family dynamic very well. I am a woman who took an unconventional path. I was really alone until I recently got married. I felt like my sisters and my family were my sisterhood. Sisterhood is a world that I understand. The whole relationship of women trying to describe a world for themselves in a place where this is not usually available.


James from Princeton, NJ: Your novels describe young immigrants trying to reconcile their Hispanic roots and the new American culture. I know that you also emigrated to America as a child from Latin America. What would you say are some of the biggest obstacles to acculturation? What do you see as some of the benefits to being an immigrant?

Julia Alvarez: I definitely think that language is a big one. If you don't understand the language, you don't know the story out there and whether you fit in it. It depends on the age when you come. I came when I was ten. I was a little human being -- I had already found a voice for myself but it was still forming. I came at an interesting border, when it is not quite clear what or who you are yet. There is not a black or white definition you can claim. Stories here are important -- that is their province. They allow for conflicting realities; that is why you have different characters. A good piece of fiction allows for that complexity. I came at that point. I hadn't been formed completely in another language and culture. In your own story, you come into the "new culture story," which you join as an immigrant. Some of the obstacles I found in the United States of America story were not like me. It didn't have me there -- just the guy with the Chiquita banana! I did not have the advantage of kids who can read Amy Tan or Toni Morrison and say, "Hey, that's me!" Thank God I was post-civil rights movement, so there was some sympathy and understanding of the others. The benefits: We are the 21st century. We are all so mobile. Maybe you are people from Vermont, and you have adopted a Chinese. Because of the mobility and meltdown of borders that you see in this culture, it is so rich. We have to think globally. We can have two languages and different ways of looking at the world.


Katrina from Richmond, VA: Yo infuriates her family by writing about them in her novel. What do you think about this situation? Do you think a writer should avoid writing about family or friends so they won't betray them, or is everything up for grabs for an artist?

Julia Alvarez: I certainly think we are human beings in a life with other people, and we are responsible for them. Mining the people in your life -- I am against that. See what's appropriate and what's right. Writers write out of their experience. But they also are other peoples stories. You have to be sensitive. The idea that it is all free rein is not a humane or professional way of dealing with the craft. But the people who know you will know "someone nervous who plays with the buttons on their shirt," or about "the little cowboy on your shorts." Of course, it is going to come from your life, and people will be able to trace that. People who know me and my books -- there is such a tendency to think that is me. There are always little trades. You see the context out of which the creation comes. I often think the real issue is whether the person already had an issue with you. It really isn't about the work.


Pamela from Albuquerque: ¡YO! is very funny. I found myself laughing out loud throughout the book. Did you intentionally aim to make your readers laugh? Do you find it more easy to write comic passages than serious ones?

Julia Alvarez: I really thank you for really understand the spirit of what I write. Sometimes I have been criticized for not being serious. People want me to write another book like IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES. But I say humor and laughter goes very deep -- sometimes more than serious fiction. We can realize the irony of something: What we laugh at is often painful. Humor is about seeing double. You see both sides. You see the humanness of someone who is supposed to be a great figure. Or you see the devilness. I am interested in that double vision. I think humor is very funny and very sad.


Stephanie Kriner from Arlington, VA: I understand that you also write poetry. Do you think of yourself as a novelist or a poet first? What draws you to write poetry? Do you find it more or less difficult than writing novels?

Julia Alvarez: I definitely began as a poet, and that is my first love. I keep going back to it as a place to get clean again or innocent, refresh the language. But I think of myself as a writer. What form that takes has so much to do with what is pressing on me and my heart at that moment. I try to find the right form -- letter, card, poem, whatever. I find poetry is a harder craft than fiction. I go back to that craft to rediscover the rhythm of the language. That is what is important in a novel -- whether the language is moving us.


Peter Wood from Portland, Maine: Greetings from a member of the Middlebury Class of 1971. The whole family enjoys your books! Was there a professor at Middlebury College who influenced your work?

Julia Alvarez: I was a transfer student. I only came my junior year. We were part of the '60s and a nontraditional year. We don't even have a yearbook where I could look you up! A professor who influenced me...hmmm.... Back then I was writing poetry. Bob Pack was the only poet at Middlebury, so he was the one of my greatest influences. His support and encouragement and generosity influenced me. Also, I transferred from Connecticut College, where teacher William Meredith -- who won the National Book Critics Award this year for poetry for EFFORT AT SPEECH -- taught. He was the first "creative writing" teacher I had. Also June Jordan, visiting that school for a semester, introduced me to nontraditional literature, which was a great influence.


Lyons from Newport: When did you realize that you wanted to be a writer? Did you write as a child like Yo?

Julia Alvarez: I actually wasn't a very literary kid. I came from a very nonliterary family. I never saw people reading books in the Dominican Republic. I was not part of an intellectual family but a storytelling family. I think that I got the love of stores and voice from them. My Aunt Sophie, who would hone her stories, and everyone in the family were always competing to tell the best story. I was not very good in school or very interested. It was not very diverse in what they taught you. It wasn't a place where story or imagination resides. For me, coming into another language and having to listen to it -- why one word was used instead of another -- these are all things you do as a writer. I was doing this as a ten-year-old. I became conscious of words and how they work. In America, public libraries were so accessible, and I found wonderful teachers who motivated me.


Melanie L. from Toronto: ¡YO! is a sequel of sorts to HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS. When you finished GARCIA GIRLS, did you imagine there would be a sequel? What drew you to write about the characters again in ¡YO!?

Julia Alvarez: I think that whenever you finish a book, it is still so alive for you, it is hard to put the characters away. If they remain and keep coming back, then there must be more to say -- they said that. It wasn't so much I planned it, it just evolved that way. You never know where the next book is coming, what is will be. Slowly you discover it if you listen carefully.


Monica from Philadelphia: Are there plans to make any of your novels movies? if so, would you write the screenplay? I can really see a movie for your book IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES.

Julia Alvarez: Actually for both GARCIA GIRLS and BUTTERFLIES, the options sold. When a company is interested, they will buy the options...but so much else matters whether they will get funding. GARCIA GIRLS is still in the works. I wasn't happy with the screenplay someone else wrote, and neither were they. IN THE TIME OF THE BUTTERFLIES is farther along. They have gone down to the Dominican Republic and met families, et cetera. I don't have craft or training in the screenplay genre. I would like someone else to take it and make it work. Some books work and you fall in love with them. They speak for themselves. Like THE ENGLISH PATIENT. I have been asked whether I want to be involved in screenwriting, but I haven't wanted to. I want the next book. I dont want to be rewriting the book I have already written.


Paul from Morris Plains, NJ: Hello, Julie. I am curious to get your opinion on the recent controversy in the news concerning Hispanic children and the learning of English. Do you feel all children here in the United States should learn English in school? Why? Or why not?

Julia Alvarez: The reason I am a storyteller is that I don't have answers to things. Chekhov said that the job of the writer is not to answer the question but state the question correctly. I do not have solutions to a lot of these riddling questions about ethnicity and multiculturalism. I came to this country before bilingual languages came to this country. I was thrown in the big pool -- but I didn't drown. I had a lot of support and resources. Our culture needs to recognize that we are a pluralist society. What holds the culture together is a common language. Using English and being able to use it to tell your story is a very important skill. More and more in the 21st century, we learn more languages. I learned another language with the computer. It wasn't easy, because I didn't grow up with it, but you just have to learn it.


Colleen from Portland, Maine: I've noticed that there are many times in the book when you use a Spanish phrase or word and don't translate it. Is there a reason why you do this? I am fluent in Spanish and always feel that I am at an advantage because I can truly understand what the characters are feeling.

Julia Alvarez: My litmus test is ideally, if I have done my job right, someone who doesn't know any Spanish can understand my writing. The way I write the scenes, I hope it would give someone a sense of that culture and the meaning of the passage. I have a book of essays, SOMETHING TO DECLARE, coming out in September 1998. One of the reasons I decided not to use italics for the Spanish in this book was not because of me but because of my readers. I didn't want them to look at a page and feel left out -- only see a lot of italics. I wanted it to come upon them and get that pleasure as a reader that you get something. I wanted to let it seem so seamless with the English and Spanish together. It is something that you work on, though, as a writer. Hemingway did it too. What I don't want to happen is for the reader to be sort of blasted with something they dont understand and be blown out of the narrative dream -- that can happen in old English also. It happens often in translated work. I am aware I have to do my job well; I don't want to anglicize my characters just because they are strange or odd or a little different.


Moderator: Thank you for joining us tonight, Julia Alvarez. Do you have any closing comments for your online audience tonight?

Julia Alvarez: Thanks for calling up. One of the nightmares of this thing is if it is live and no one but your mom calls up -- so thanks for all the questions. And thanks for being my readers and caring about my work.


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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2001

    Awesome way to tell a story!

    Although this is not Alvarez's best work (that honor belongs to In the Name of Salome), Yo! is my favorite. Each chapter is like a short story and they all leave you waiting for more. This book shows something that is very true: no one looks at any event in the same way as anyone else. This is indeed an interesting read.

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