From Publishers Weekly
Having transformed her tumultuous life story?a passage from childhood in the Dominican Republic and Queens, N.Y., to a career as a celebrated author and creative writing teacher?into a body of startlingly lyrical fiction and poetry (!Yo!, etc.), 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, Wis., 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. (Sept.) FYI: Plume has just published the Spanish-language edition of Alvarez's second novel, In the Time of the Butterflies; Plume's Spanish edition of !Yo! will be out in 1999.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From 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.
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Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.