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Afterlife by Julia Alvarez — book review

Afterlife.jpgAfterlife is a slim novel that covers many topical and important issues, like mental health, in a not always satisfactory way. Alvarez’s style was at times a detriment to her story. While I could have moved past the lack of quotations, I had a harder time buying into the recursive narration. I sort of understood what Alvarez was going for, trying to render Antonia Vega’s inner monologue in what seemed to be a slightly less sporadic take on stream-of-consciousness, but I can’t say that it worked (for me). Antonia’s observations, reflections, and various thoughts often seemed far too contrived. For one, she was perpetually baffled: each interaction she has with another person has her wondering why certain customs exists, why society expects us to behave a certain way or why we adhere to certain etiquettes. At times it seemed that she had lived under a rock for the entirety of her life, when in actuality she was a teacher and therefore must have accumulated some life experiences.
While I appreciated that she wasn’t portrayed as inherently selfless, I wish we could have seen her in a more positive light. Her relationship with her sisters and husband seemed to reinforce this image of her interacting with them not because she wanted to or because she cared for them but because it was expected of her. Her two younger sisters merged into one blurry character, while her older sister’s personality was entirely reduced to the being the ‘problematic’ one. Alvarez presents us with a rather simplistic take of mental disorders and the sister who is possibly bipolar was a mere plot device that would enable Antonia to embark on her ‘new life’.
The book does pose some thought-provoking questions, especially regarding what people owe to each themselves and each other, but stylistically it just wasn’t for me. I hope other readers will be able to connected with Alvarez’s story and her characters more than I was.

My rating: ★★★✰✰ 3 stars

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