Ever since I first picked up In the Time of the Butterflies in college, I have been a devoted reader of Julia Alvarez. Her way with voice, the fascinating cultures she portrays, and the compulsive readability of her books ensures that I not only read and enjoy them, but read them again and recommend them to everyone I can. So it’s no surprise that I was completely and totally overjoyed by her visit to our store yesterday, February 11, on her tour for Return to Sender:
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family is forced to hire migrant Mexican workers to help save their Vermont farm from foreclosure. Tyler isn’t sure what to make of these workers. Are they undocumented? And what about the three daughters, particularly Mari, the oldest, who is proud of her Mexican heritage but also increasingly connected her American life. Her family lives in constant fear of being discovered by the authorities and sent back to the poverty they left behind in Mexico. Can Tyler and Mari find a way to be friends despite their differences? In a novel full of hope, but no easy answers, Julia Alvarez weaves a beautiful and timely story that will stay with readers long after they finish it.
It was, as my colleague Margaret said, a pleasure, honor, and privilege to hear Julia speak. She is an incredibly intelligent woman, as well as a funny one. She quoted Chekhov, Joyce, and Hemingway, told us hilarious anecdotes about translating for migrant workers in her Vermont hometown, and moved us to tears with her slideshow, which documented her research into the plight of the migrant workers (mostly on dairy farms) both here in the U.S. and in Mexico. She also gave excellent advice on the craft of writing, noting that for her the voice must come first.
She and her husband Bill run a farm in the Dominican Republic that not only produces fine organic coffee, but also brings volunteers from the U.S. to work with the farm, teach local children, and write. They have a blog that is definitely worth a look — I’m already trying to figure out how I can get myself into the program! Not to mention getting some of that coffee into our shop.
Gracious, lovely, and engaging, Julia Alvarez was an author I have admired from a distance for a long time, and meeting her was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I will attempt to restrain my gushing, but consider yourselves forewarned and, if you see me in the store, be prepared!