... striking and lovely ... there are two things worth noting about this slim novel. The first is the way Alvarez inserts literary references into Antonia’s inner monologue. A slew of poets and authors play in her thoughts like a soundtrack and it’s fun for readers to either get the reference or look it up ... The second device worth noting is Alvarez’s refusal to use quotation marks. It’s jarring at first and sometimes difficult to figure out who’s talking, but you do get used to it. Perhaps it’s just another way for Alvarez to maintain the economy of her writing. Like her main character, words are what drives her and while Antonia’s journey is all about finding more than just words to navigate a world without Sam, Alvarez finds the perfect words more often than not in this stunning novel.
As Alvarez has done so beautifully in previous books, she offers a memorable portrait of sisterhood ... In one moving scene after another, Alvarez dramatizes the sustaining power of stories, whether for immigrants in search of a better life or for widows surviving a spouse’s death. True to its title, Afterlife cannily explores what it means to go on after a loss.
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. Unlike her previous novels, however, this one ably tackles the subject of privilege as well ... Alvarez never goes so far as to suggest how exactly one might correct this social imbalance, or how to reconcile a simultaneous attentiveness to oneself and to others. The world — like Alvarez’s aging characters — is too set in its ways for such swift enlightenment, or change. But Afterlife does contain some hope for human empathy.
... a gold-medal pole vaulter couldn’t clear the highest bar with more grace and assurance than Julia Alvarez does in Afterlife ... Alvarez slowly and succinctly unspools Antonia’s thoughts and feelings. Though not in the first-person, the voice of the narration is Antonia’s. She is a tremendously layered protagonist. The reader comes to know her, her relationship with Sam, with her sisters, with her deceased parents, through Alvarez’s lean and lavish prose ... Through Antonia’s story, Alvarez gives the reader the irresistible opportunity to spend time with big questions ... Alvarez shows us what love can do, and it’s a joyous, heartbreaking, unforgettable sight.
... the author skillfully brings her signature warmth and gentleness to issues that are anything but: death, immigration, and health care. Without making overt political statements, Alvarez’s poetic and meditative prose pulls back the curtain on the ambiguous nature of power dynamics and wades into the discomfort wrought by family relationships. More subtly, Alvarez offers a study in the concept of home ... In the end, all of this emotional mayhem yields a positive effect. And as the master storyteller, Alvarez collects these broken fragments of Antonia’s life to form a whole.
Antonia’s afterlife is a journey full of questions and quandaries, good choices and others, dilemmas of the moral and personal kind which connect at multiple levels with America’s essential issues of the moment ... And yet, for all its interiority, this is a book that slips down like water. Alvarez experience and humanity translates into a soft-spoken but resonant examination of the words we think and say, and the deeds we do on the strength of them.
... another good read ... Alvarez clearly draws on her own life ... Along with capturing the people and atmosphere of her chosen state, as well as those who emigrate there and hide from the authorities, she also brings the sensitivities and sensibilities of Latina culture into her work. All of that adds substance and verisimilitude to the story she tells ... In the end, Alvarez helps Antonia, and us, believe that despite the depths of human suffering in the world and in Antonia’s life, Antonia will be able to imagine and live a life beyond loss. She will carry on and come back to the world, perhaps strengthened by adversity. That is a gift we gladly welcome from a good and acclaimed writer.
... a quick read with big ambitions for the here and now ... Alvarez probes the contours of private moral decisions that echo our national conversation, which excludes migrant communities from claiming their contributions to this country ... Ultimately, Afterlife 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.
... masterful simplicity ... Alvarez summons the words from the lit canon with the terrific device of Antonia’s musings. Phrases are plucked with logical need yet emerge uninvited
from the long dead to those still living and kicking, in order to celebrate the
gifts we can enjoy but also to take those gifts to task ... Alvarez’s slender novel is a reminder that in the hands of a master, a simple story of loss and love can be fresh and devastating.
Afterlife is also full of unexpected delights. Alvarez surprises us with the way relationships work out sometimes, and with the wonderful literary references she salts throughout the book, words that have always inspired Antonia, but now, in the face of reality, have to take on new meaning ... Does literature fail us in the real world, she keeps wondering? This sunburst of a novel about family, immigration, love and moral choices says otherwise.
The In the Time of the Butterflies icon makes a satisfying and long-awaited return to adult fiction with this kind tale of grief and sisterhood. Treading familiar themes and maintaining a loose, fragmentary structure ... The author doesn't break any new ground but does settle into a deeply poignant groove.
While the beginnings of this novel hold promise, it grows tiring in the long telling. The sisters do not seem real, but perhaps that is due to the detachment and sorrow of the narrating sister. The most interesting part of the book is the unification of the sisters against the 'crazy' one. In many families, one member is always the scapegoat. This reader had a wish for greater resolution to this story and felt abandoned in the last pages.
... it isn’t only Alvarez’s storytelling that is so compelling, but also her unparalleled voice ... Alvarez has a remarkable ability to show how our personal lives can enmesh with political questions ... The story’s climax comes and goes a little too neatly and easily, but the novel’s virtues—of which there are many—are separate from its plot. Reading Alvarez’s work is a reminder in the enduring power of literature, of what it can and should do. Its job isn’t simply to entertain, but to move us, challenge us, change us ... Literature pulls its weight when it forces us to meditate on contemporary life, to step outside ourselves and question the status quo. Make no mistake. Afterlife pulls its weight in the real world.
Alvarez’s prose is magnetic as she delves into the intricacies of sisterhood, immigration, and grief, once again proving her mastery as a storyteller. This stirring novel reminds readers that actions (big and small) have a lasting impact—so they should always act with love ... An incisive book that will burrow itself into people’s hearts and stay long after they’ve turned the last page.
The sisters’ dynamic relationships brim with a funny but genuine Latina exuberance flowing from deep-rooted love. As she grapples with the urge to turn her back on the needs of others and hunker down in her grief, Antonia’s inner voice is engaging, troubled, and ultimately, hopeful. A charming novel of immigration, loss, and love.
Alvarez’s poignant return to adult fiction (after the young adult Tia Lola series) raises powerful questions about the care people owe themselves and others ... 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.
One of the best chroniclers of sisterhood returns with a funny, moving novel of loss and love ... 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.