BookBrowse Reviews Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

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Afterlife

by Julia Alvarez

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez X
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Apr 2021, 288 pages

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Afterlife is a complex, character-driven novel that thoughtfully explores aspects of identity, obligation and grief.

The novel Afterlife by Julia Alvarez received an average 4.5 rating from our First Impressions reviewers. Alvarez is the author of several books, including the novels How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, In the Time of the Butterflies and Saving the World, as well as the memoir A Wedding in Haiti.

What the book is about:

Antonia struggles daily with the tragic death of her husband even nine months after. Not only has she lost her husband, but she has also retired from her job as a college professor, losing a second pillar of her identity. Her three sisters provide the third pillar, but as in all families support is often a double-edged sword (Wendy R). I loved this novel which explores a year in the life of Antonia Vega, recently retired English professor, following the sudden death of her beloved husband. After months of grief, her life begins again when two events occur that bring her out of her solitary misery (Pam S).

Readers found Alvarez's portrait of grief realistic…

I have read and enjoyed Alvarez's books before but none were as impactful as this. She authentically portrays all the emotions one feels after losing someone they truly love (Rosanne S). Antonia is reeling from her husband's death. Having lost a mom and two siblings within the past three years, I too have found great comfort in "mind-talking" to them, thus keeping them "alive" through the afterlife (Sandra L).

...and appreciated her thoughtful approach to moral and social issues.

As a recent widow, Antonia grapples with the afterlife of her debilitating grief and her reluctance to be drawn into the dramas surrounding one sister's emotional crisis and the dangers facing a pregnant teenager with nowhere else to go. She is haunted by a question she has pondered throughout her life: Who is the most important one? Alvarez's life-affirming answer: All of us (Becky K). Afterlife makes the reader think about not what is right or wrong but about what is important and humane. I highly recommend Afterlife not to just the grieving reader but to the socially confused one as well (Rosanne S). Afterlife is a beautifully written novel that deals with death, family and immigration. It asks the question: How much do we owe others (Milda S)?

Some readers felt the focus of the book was a bit scattered,

There is a lot of detail about each character and how Antonia thinks about everyone. I didn't leave this book feeling satisfied because it was a lot of build-up with no payoff. I know so much about each female character, but don't know what to do with this information (Jennifer G). I came away feeling that something was missing. There were three major events in such a short span, and it left me wondering what the real takeaway was. That being said, I still enjoyed it for a quick read (Gina B).

...but others praised the author's character development...

Afterlife is a thoughtful, nuanced book whose title conveys the great changes in its characters' identities—some associated with death and mourning and others with longing and an immigrant's sense of being "other." I would very much recommend this book, which uses subtlety and emotional detail to tell a complex, multifaceted and often sad story (Shelley S). I was delighted to be selected to get a copy of this novel as I'd never read anything by Julia Alvarez. I appreciated the way she developed the characters, both individually and as the sisterhood. Though the story focused on Antonia, each supporting character brought out a part of Antonia's personality and that was very effective (Vicki O).

...and enjoyed her use of humor alongside serious and important topics.

This book spoke to me and I loved it. From the loss of a spouse and identity, to the complexities of family dynamics, and the question of how to deal and engage with a world run amok, the author explored my reality and concerns with kindness and humor (Christine P). The author makes you laugh and cry as she tells this story. I highly recommend this book (Nancy K)! I'm thrilled that Julia Alvarez has finally written another adult novel. I love her prose and the moments of humor actually provided a physical release in some of the more tense moments between the sisters. I think the story would make an excellent book club selection with much to discuss. So glad to have read this (Carol S).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in April 2020, and has been updated for the April 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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