I’m so excited to participate in Julia Alvarez’s blog tour for her new novel, Afterlife. Alvarez is the international best-selling author of two dozen books, including In the Time of Butterflies and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
In Afterlife, Antonia Vega is about to meet her husband Sam for a celebratory dinner to start the beginning of her retirement. For the last three decades, Antonia had taught English at a small liberal arts college in Vermont and was looking forward to spending quiet days with her physician husband. But on the way to their dinner, Sam suffers a fatal aortic aneurysm and dies before Antonia can say goodbye.
Antonia feels alone in her Vermont home and makes a snap decision to visit one of her three sisters in Chicago to celebrate her sixty-sixth birthday, her first birthday since Sam died. Her two other sisters decide to visit Chicago, too, so the sisterhood will be together for Antonia.
Around this time, Mario, one of the Mexican migrants working for Antonia’s next door neighbor, confides in her because he’s having trouble getting his girlfriend to Vermont after she left Mexico. Antonia’s family immigrated to the US from the Dominican Republic and Mario feels fortunate to have someone with whom he can communicate and who has many resources. But Antonia is reluctant to get involved. She’s mourning Sam and was never the one to speak out against the plight of undocumented migrants. That was Sam’s milieu when they used to attend dinner parties together. But now he’s gone and Antonia feels conflicted: should she put herself first during this difficult time after Sam’s death or should she do what Sam had always advocated and get involved?
As if this weren’t stressful enough, when Antonia reaches Chicago and reunites with her sisters Tilly and Mona, their oldest sister Izzie fails to show up. Antonia can’t leave her sisters and needs to attend to Izzie’s disappearance, but still worries about Mario and his girlfriend, Estela.
Alvarez brings the struggles of migrants and the fears of ICE into this story and shows that even small towns in remote states like Vermont are not immune to the fears and destructions of families pulled apart forever. Afterlife is an important new book about community, family, and our responsibilities as members of a civil society.