‘A sunburst of a novel’ is what one reviewer called Afterlife and the description is perfect. Julia Alvarez has outdone herself in this book. It’s a gem.
In a nutshell: Antonia Vega, 66, is newly retired and newly widowed. Into the void of what-comes-next thuds a double whammy: a crisis with the oldest of her three sisters, and the challenge of an undocumented, pregnant teenager who arrives at a time of governmental paranoia. As Antonia struggles to find the right path, the different options that unfold reflect the many contradictions of our current world.
Afterlife is well-paced, suspenseful in a grown-up way, and written with the exquisite skill of Julia Alvarez at her best.
The book is set in Vermont, where the author lives. Without quite being a character in the book, the area is perfectly described.
The main character’s memories of, sometimes obsession with her late husband are both positive and negative, rendering the marriage thoroughly realistic.
“The Sisterhood.” I loved this theme. Antonia is one of four sisters, fondly known as “the sisterhood” in both their native Dominican Republic and now the US. Depictions of the four women and their interactions with each other are alternately hysterically funny, poignantly sad, and ultimately victorious.
Though Antonia and her sisters came to the US from Dominica years before and are all acclimated citizens, they take pride in their origin. Through this lens, the plight of the undocumented immigrant is seen in subtle, realistic, and sympathetic ways.
Afterlife is short, but as filled with thought and emotion as a novel twice as long.
Are there any? If I were to nitpick, I might suggest that the title, while fitting the story, is quieter than titles are nowadays. But then, in its quiet too, it fits the book.
Afterlife is a contemporary take on life, death, family, and hope. It’s a winner. Go for it!