Saturday, April 11, 2020

Book Review: Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez

Guest review by: Becki Bayley

Antonia has to defer to Mona’s expertise. Still, it’s a shame how every grand passion has been coopted by some pathology or other. Indignation is now wounded narcissism. Outrage an issue with anger management. Revenge, a post-traumatic embitterment disorder. These old-time passions only exist anymore in Russian novels and on stage, especially in the Met operas broadcast at the Town Hall Theatre. As Madame Butterfly stabs herself in despair or Desdemona spends her last virtuous breaths singing, the victim of Otello’s jealous rage, Antonia weeps with abandon, embarrassed when the lights come up and she is surrounded by her dry-eyed fellow audience members. Catharsis, that’s what she feels, a term she often used when teaching Greek tragedy to her students. Once again, she is reminded how much she will miss them.

How does life change when you only have yourself to answer for? Antonia is finding that it also means all the decisions are your responsibility, which can be good or bad.

Official synopsis:
Book Review: Afterlife, by Julia Alvarez
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?


When Antonia’s role as wife ends, she’s not sure what’s left. Almost a year after her husband’s death, she’s forced to re-enter the world more fully as a sister, and then as a member of her community without her husband by her side.

Antonia is one of four sisters whose parents passed away years ago. Now when one sister disappears while on her way to visit the other three, Antonia spends a lot of time in her own head, contemplating the roles and responsibilities they each have in the sisterhood.

Then she returns home to find a very young, very pregnant immigrant without papers in her garage. Antonia knows the important humanitarian role her husband played in their community as a doctor and defender of the underdogs.

All of this plays alongside Antonia’s need to find the right words. She relentlessly remembers quotes and passages from favorite and influential authors who she read and taught to her students. Finding the right words will solve her dilemmas, she’s convinced.

Overall, I’d give this book 3.5 out of 5 stars. The unique writing style of Antonia’s internal monologue felt a bit awkward at first, but charming and beautiful as the story developed.


Becki Bayley is a wife, mother, and reader. She loves sunshine and being clean, warm, and cozy. She also blogs at SweetlyBSquared.com.

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