I just completed How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (b.1950), the first novel by a Dominican-American woman to receive widespread acclaim and attention in the United States. The Caribbean references struck a chord, of course, and the Spanish flavours were not entirely exotic to me as Trinidad was a Spanish colony long before it became an English colony and the Spanish influence is everywhere here, from the food to the music, from the surnames and place names to a significant portion of the blood running through my veins.
The book explores issues of migration and assimilation of Caribbean, in this case of Spanish-Caribbean people into the USA - issues of ethnic identity and multiculturalism. But forget the larger issues; it's an entertaining, well-written story of a Dominican family that ran away to the US during the time of the brutal dictator Trujillo, and their struggles to straddle their old culture and their adopted one.
Junot Díaz (b.1968), writer and creative writing professor at MIT, is also Dominican-American, and the immigrant experience is central to his work as well. His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008, along with numerous other literary awards and prizes including the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award for best novel of 2007.
Oscar Wao is next on my reading list, lent to me by my friend and fellow writer Vaughn. Now that I've acquired some background into the Dominican experience via Julia Alvarez, I anticipate enjoying this acclaimed first novel even more.
Before Night Falls: A Memoir by Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas (1943 – 1990) was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year in 1993. In 2000 this work was made into a film in which Spanish actor Javier Bardem played Arenas.
Major themes in Arenas' novels are condemnation of the government of Fidel Castro which imprisoned him for his writings and openly gay lifestyle, and criticism of the Catholic Church and US culture and politics.