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Summary and book reviews of Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

Afterlife

by Julia Alvarez

Afterlife by Julia Alvarez X
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez
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  • Published:
    Apr 2020, 272 pages

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Book Summary

The first novel for adults in almost fifteen years from the internationally bestselling author of In the Time of the Butterflies follows Antonia Vega, a retired English professor struggling to deal with the death of her husband, the appearance of a pregnant undocumented teen on her doorstep, and the disappearance of her sister.

Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.

Afterlife is a compact, nimble, and sharply droll novel. Set in this political moment of tribalism and distrust, it asks: What do we owe those in crisis in our families, including—maybe especially—members of our human family? How do we live in a broken world without losing faith in one another or ourselves? And how do we stay true to those glorious souls we have lost?

Afterlife

Today, the magnet on her fridge proves prophetic: even creatures of habit can sometimes be forgetful.

You said it, Antonia agrees. She has just poured orange juice into the coffee in the mug she brought back from one of the fancier hotels. Must have been a special occasion for Sam to have chosen to stay there and for her to have allowed the expense.

You'd think you were born with money in your family, she liked to tease him.

I never had it to begin with, so I'm not afraid to spend it, Sam responded. He was always quick with a comeback. Used to get him in trouble with his dad growing up. Being fresh, it was called back then. Oh, the stories he told her.

Sam spoiled her, or tried to, and got scolded as his thanks—but it was the kind of scolding that must've made him suspect she liked being made something of.

There'll be no more of that now.


She is keeping to her routines, walking a narrow path through the loss—not allowing her thoughts to stray. Occasionally, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Antonia and her sisters are close and clearly love one another; at the same time, like many siblings, they argue, put each other in boxes, and are not always supportive. How are the sisters similar and how are they different? Which parts of their relationships felt familiar to you, if you have siblings?
  2. Antonia notes that in many ways, her husband, Sam, remains alive in her head: she often wonders what he would say or do, and she lets that guide her own actions. Do you think Antonia would have made different decisions about Mario, Estela, and Izzy if Sam had still been alive?
  3. How do you feel about the actions Antonia ultimately takes to help Mario and Estela? Does their story change your thinking about immigration in America? If so, how...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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). 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)...continued

Full Review Members Only (733 words).

(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

New York Times
In this latest work, the author reaps the fruits of her earlier literary efforts, with Spanish words and phrases unfurling freely across the page without the awkward signaling of italics or quotation...Like so much of Alvarez’s work, Afterlife is anchored not just in easy humor and sharp observation, but in her fine-tuned sense for the intimacies of immigrant sisterhood.

Washington Post
Afterlife is a quick read with big ambitions for the here and now...Ultimately, [the novel] falls apart when Alvarez stops trusting the reader to understand her intentions, ruining perfectly good lines with narrative summaries...Still, there are moments. In the shifting dynamic between the sisters, Alvarez finds her stride.

Salon
Skillfully executed, Afterlife is a compassionately political look at how we view the workers whom we gladly exploit, the immigration crisis, what we owe ourselves, and what we owe each other as a community. [Afterlife] displays Alvarez's poetic hyper-awareness of lyricism and word choice, and her ability to create moments that are simultaneously poignant and hilarious showcase this mastery.

O, The Oprah Magazine
A gorgeously intimate portrait of an immigrant writer and recent widow carving out hope in the face of personal and political grief.

Publishers Weekly
[P]oignant...Alvarez blends light humor with deep empathy toward her characters, offering a convincing portrait of an older woman's self discovery. This will satisfy her fans and earn new ones.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Alvarez writes with knowing warmth about how well sisters know how to push on each other's bruises and how powerfully they can lift each other up. In this bighearted novel, family bonds heal a woman's grief.

Library Journal (starred review)
Alvarez's prose is magnetic as she delves into the intricacies of sisterhood, immigration, and grief, once again proving her mastery as a storyteller...An incisive book that will burrow itself into people's hearts and stay long after they've turned the last page.

Booklist (starred review)
A charming novel of immigration, loss, and love.

Author Blurb Elizabeth Acevedo, National Book Award-winning author of the New York Times estseller The Poet X
A stunning work of art that reminds readers Alvarez is, and always has been, in a class of her own.

Author Blurb Luis Alberto Urrea, bestselling author of The House of Broken Angels
The queen is back with the exact novel we need in this fraught era. A powerful testament of witness and humanity written with audacity and authority.

Author Blurb Jonathan Santlofer, author of The Widower's Notebook
Ravishing and heartfelt, Afterlife explores the complexities of familial devotion and tragedy against a backdrop of a world in crisis, and the ways in which we struggle to maintain hope, faith, compassion and love. This is Julia Alvarez at her best and most personal.

Author Blurb Stewart O'Nan, author of Emily, Alone and Henry, Himself
From the very beginning, Julia Alvarez has proven herself a wise and funny writer with a sharp eye and ear for the joys and obligations of love and family. Now, in Afterlife, she applies her gifts to last things, as her Antonia struggles to move beyond the consolations of poetry and embrace the buzzing, blooming confusion of the world again.

Reader Reviews

Janice P. (South Woodstock, VT)

Life Itself
At one point near the emotional climax of this profound, lyrical novel, Antonia, who has recently retired and has just lost her husband, ponders how often a milestone in her life has been marked by a major public tragedy. The publication of Afterlife...   Read More

Becky K.

Sisterhood prevails
A fierce and loving tribute to the enduring power of sisterhood and the healing influence the familial bond has throughout one's lifetime, despite -- and maybe because of – the carryforward of childhood quibbles and jealousies. As a recent widow, ...   Read More

Linda J. (Urbana, OH)

Real Life
I was immediately involved with the main character of this book. Antonia is my age, a retired teacher (like me), and has 3 sisters (I have 2.) She is recently widowed, living in Vermont next door to a man who has work for illegal immigrants. The ...   Read More

Pam S. (MA)

Life goes on after retirement and death of spouse
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 ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Aneurysms

Angiogram of an aortic aneurysm In Julia Alvarez's novel Afterlife, Antonia's husband Sam dies suddenly of an aneurysm. An aneurysm is an enlargement or bulge in an artery from a weakening of the arterial wall that can cause internal bleeding if it ruptures. Most aneurysms don't rupture, and most people who have them don't experience any symptoms at all. However, when an aneurysm does burst, the effects tend to be sudden and severe, often causing complications (such as heart attack or stroke) that result in death.

Some people may associate the word "aneurysm" only with cerebral aneurysms, and it's true that many aneurysms occur in the blood vessels of the brain, but they can occur in any area of the body. Many aneurysms form in the aorta, the main artery and largest ...

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