Book Review: “How the Garcia girls lost their accents”

The novel is about a family from the Dominican Republic. Garcia family forced to leave to US because the father (Dr. Carlos) was activist against Dictator Trujilo in the Dominican Republic. The mother (Laura) and the four daughters (Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia) have to face the prejudice, poverty and the harsh climate in New York City. The daughters also have to face the contradictions that arise when their memories of childhood impinge on their adult realities. One the other hand, the novel contains a serious of events in the lives of the Garcia family by writing fifteen short stories, in reverse chronological order from 1965 to 1989.
As the novel progresses, in chapter one, we get to know the first daughter Yolanda who suffers a nervous mental breakdown with two men following her separation. At this point, she begins speaking English, which the men do no understand, and assents that she is indeed American. Later she decided to move to Dominican Republic to assert her Dominican identity and connect to her culture and family roots. This is ironic because during this time, she pretends not to understand the word of Spanish. She only explains herself there by remaining tightly enclosed with her American identity and sticking to the English Language. During this moment of panic, Yolanda stay in the mental hospital in chapter three, she begins to reclaim language and its meaning. Following this period, she is able to label objects and play word games and regains the ability to use language and convey meaning.
In chapter two, Carlos and Sofia attempt to reconcile their differences during his birthday party. Yet Sofia feels slighted by how her father treats her other sisters, and she decides to humiliate him during a party game. Sofia has angered her father by marrying a German. The moment when she snatched back her love letters was the moment that led to the family rift, so the fact that Sofia continues to wear her brilliant and impassive look indicates that there has been no reconciliation. This look shows her pride in displaying her sexual independence from her father, and her unwillingness to feel the shame he insists is appropriate.
Carla has troubles adjustment in US especially in her school. The American boys were prejudiced and insulted her. For this reason, she felt isolated and had trouble fitting in to her new language and cultural environment. Later in her life, she became a psychologist. Sandra the second oldest has trouble to fit in American culture as Carla’s, and she was unable to express herself personally that led her to have a serious mental breakdown, and spend more time in a private mental health hospital. Naturally, the sense of her own unique identity has been empathized to the loss of her humanity.
These four character, remind us with a similar experience. Last July, our English teacher assigned us to read the Joy luck club (Amy Tan). This novel describes the lives of four Asian women who fled China in the 1940s and their four very Americanized daughters. By comparison, the four daughters who are young and first generation have led relatively blessed lives by their mothers. Ironically, each of the daughters has great difficulty achieving happiness. Waverly divorces her first husband, and both Lena and Rose are on the verge of splitting with their husbands. Jing-mei has never married nor has she a lover. Furthermore, none of the daughters is entirely comfortable when dealing with the events of her life. In other words, Dominican daughters have the same struggling as the Chinese daughters who raised in American culture. Their stories illustrate the challenge of identity and racism. Besides, in both novels the stories increase with layers of multiple points of view and overlapping experiences, building to a sense of family myths in the making.
The most important factors that contributed to Gracia family problems is the power relationship that surrounds the issue of political exile, a greater trust on family as community, English as a second language. The novel describes the Dominican families struggling to negotiate the processes of honoring ideologies they carry from the homeland and constant pressure to acculturate or assimilate the new beliefes and customs learned in America. These are among the issues that must be considered in the difference between acculturation, which “Cultural change which results from the continued firsthand contact between two distinct cultures. It is marked by physical and psychological changes due to the adaptation required in diet, climate, housing, interactional styles, norms, and values to a new culture”, and assimilation, “the process whereby a minority group gradually adopts the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture” Le. Garcia family describes closeness with different generation families who are influenced by the ethnicity, class and gender, and trace how these elements contribute to familial and individual struggles for identity in a new country.
During the character’s struggle to preserve the family and their native customs and beliefs while undertaking the processes of redefining their families and home as sites of experiencing the ongoing drama of trying to blend American values with their won. Laura and Carlos exhibit “anger, despair and sadness” at the dramatic changes in their children’s lives. For instance, Naturally,when Laura realizes that she and her family will leave the Dominican Republic for an indefinite period of time signals a dramatic and traumatic transition. The proximity of this turning point leads her to view her surroundings in suddenly different ways. The details of her home that previously hid in the background of her perceptions come forward to occupy her attention. The light and plants, which will be different in the United States, come to have a significance that fixes itself permanently into her consciousness. During the moment when she prepares for change, Laura focuses on the essence of what she loves most about the Dominican Republic, the light that contributes to a distinctive sense of place.


About BentRamallah

Writing is part of my resistance, Palestinian-Jordanian, working in humanitarian aid, refugee, social policy and protection. I love to cook, dance, hike, teach and practice yoga, and rescue animals.
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