Yo! (en espanol)

Yo! (en espanol)

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by Julia Alvarez
     
 

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About Yo!

Obsessed by human stories, Latina novelist Yolanda Garcia has managed to put herself at the center of many lives. Thrice married, she's also managed to remain childless while giving very public birth to her highly autobiographical writing. She's famous for it. Now her characters want a chance to tell their side of it. And tell it they do! Everybody who's

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Overview

About Yo!

Obsessed by human stories, Latina novelist Yolanda Garcia has managed to put herself at the center of many lives. Thrice married, she's also managed to remain childless while giving very public birth to her highly autobiographical writing. She's famous for it. Now her characters want a chance to tell their side of it. And tell it they do! Everybody who's ever been caught in Yo's web from her sisters to her third husband can hardly wait to talk. The stories they tell on celebrated writer Yolanda Garcia (known to her intimates as Yo) deliver delicious insight into the very nature of artistic creation and the material from which it is built.

Yo! is a novel about what happens when an author really does write what she knows. At once funny and poignant, intellectual and gossipy, lighthearted and layered in meaning, Yo! is, above all, the portrait of an artist. And with its bright colors, passion, and penchant for controversy, it's a portrait that could come only from the palette of Julia Alvarez.

Discussion Points

1. The one word title, Yo!, has three definitions: the first person singular pronoun, I, in Spanish; an exclamation used as a greeting, to express excitement, or to attract attention; and a nickname, short for Yolanda, the character on whom all of the other characters' stories are focused. It seems a particularly intriguing title, especially since Yolanda herself never has the opportunity to use the personal pronoun. Discuss this ironic nature of the title. Why doesn't Yo ever have a chance to speak for herself?

2. From time to time, Yolanda Garcia makes a big deal about being Latina. How important do you think her ethnicity is to her sense ofherself as a person and writer? Do you think she uses this ethnicity to protect herself from accountability in either culture? Does she use her calling as a writer in the same way?

3. What is the significance of each of the literary terms in the titles of the sixteen narratives? Why do you think the author chose to include them?

4. Expatriated from the Dominican Republic at the age of ten, Yolanda Garcia, daughter of upper-class exiles, finds herself driven to improve the circumstances of the servant and peasant classes back on the island. She goes to extremes, trying to share her U.S. education and ideals with those who are hired as her servants. How does this impulse fit with her sisters' notions of her personality? With the way her stepdaughter sees her? And the way her stalker imagines her? Which of these visions of Yolanda do you think she would most resent? Most appreciate?

5. Yo claims that men don't understand her bicultural self, that they prevent her from being a writer. Do you agree with her analysis? Half of the stories in this book are from the points of view of men. How successful is Alvarez in presenting the points of view of male characters?

6. Why do you think Yolanda, unlike her sisters, has never had children?

7. The various images of womanhood Yolanda Garcia embodies in the minds of her various biographers range from aggressive competitor to sexy glamour puss to frightened prey. Having read all sixteen versions of Yo, how would you characterize her? Which of the storytellers do you believe sees her most clearly as she really is? What do you think Julia Alvarez believes is truest of Yolanda Garcia?

8. Her various biographers accuse Yo of many transgressions in her pursuit of a writing career from her sisters who claim that she has exposed their personal lives to the public eye to her former student who believes she has plagiarized his work. What do these accusations say about where a writer's real life stops and her fiction begins? Is truth what really happened? Or is it something else altogether? What's the use of fiction, anyway?

9. Julia Alvarez has defined truth as all the points around the circle and plot as a quilt, which is a way that I think a lot of women experience plot, as opposed to the hero directed on his adventure . . . against all odds, doing what he needs to do. How does the form of this character novel illustrate her image of plot direction as relational as opposed to directional?

10. How do the various portraits of Yolanda Garcia and their different layers of meaning add to one another? How do they build to a crescendo in her father's narrative?

Recommended Reading from Julia Alvarez

I'm always reading a book, and I usually fall in love with something about that book if it's any good at all. I keep a diary of all the books I read, with notes to myself of what I liked or didn't like about each one. When asked what books I would recommend to readers of Yo!, I looked at the last five years of my reading list and picked a dozen fiction titles by my contemporaries, keystone books for me, books that taught me something about writing, and about the human heart.

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

Kingsolver writes about post-sixties people (like me), still trying to live out promises we made to ourselves back then. There's an intimacy and genuineness to her style I truly admire.

Dorothy Allison, Bastard Out of Carolina

A remarkable example of how to write about the most painful and devastating circumstances without self-indulgence, and with such accuracy of tone that the reader cannot shake the character's tragedy.

Russell Banks, Continental Drift

As for how to be a political and still tell a good story, this book gets that balance perfectly. It also taught me a lot about achieving irony by the juxtoposition of two different "plots."

Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient

Plotting a novel is not just about charting a series of actions but about plunging your reader into the rhythms of a character's being. I love this strange, lyrical book.

Gloria Naylor, Mama Day

This one taught me how to work a larger canvas. Naylor tells history, she tells a love story, a grandmother-granddaughter story, the story of an island, a community, and keeps all the parts stirring inside her readers.

Ron Hansen, Mariette in Ecstasy

With lyricism that weaves a spiritual spell, this novel taught me so much about tone and about the magic of naming and the power of precise details.

Elena Castedo, Paradise

A novel presenting the complex adult world from the fresh and delightful point of view of a young girl, it taught me about voice, and about the humor of hearing a story "out of the mouths of babes."

William Trevor, Reading Turgenev

This beautiful book made me want to create characters as sharply and fully realized as Trevor does. I even went back and reread some of Turgenev's stories so I could feel even closer to Trevor's characters.

E. Annie Proulx, The Shipping News

An author who knows everything. Among her many other gifts, I love her prickly, brisk, felicitous prose style. I kep a dictionary handy and learned a lot of new words.

Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries

I admired the way Carol Shields plays with truth and fiction, how the different traditional avenues of women's expression (from recipes to newspaper clippings) are used to convey the depth and passion of a woman's psyche.

Merch Rodoreda, translated by David Rosenthal, The Time of the Doves

This book is exquisite; a simple soul given voice with such freshness the reader believes she is feeling, not reading. It reminded me of Buson's secret to writing haiku: "Use the commonplace to escape the commonplace."

Sandra Cisneros, Woman Hollering Creek

With her absolute brilliance of language and detail, Cisneros opened up doors for me by making me hear the music of Spanish in my English and by showing me ways of presenting characters who are also of two worlds.

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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 - 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 - 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:
9780786251902
Publisher:
Gale Group
Publication date:
05/09/2003
Series:
Spanish Language Series
Edition description:
Spanish-language Edition Large Print
Pages:
483
Product dimensions:
7.10(w) x 8.62(h) x 1.05(d)

What People are saying about this

Rosellen Brown
"Yo! works the same builing combination as How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents -- a lively and good natured surface of a depth of serious questioning."

Meet the Author

Julia Alvarez is the author of five books of fiction, including How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies, as well as a book of essays; five collections of poetry; and five books for children. She lives in Vermont, where she is a writer-in-residence at Middlebury College.

Brief Biography

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

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Yo! 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.