At least once in his or her life, everyone thinks of the role of reading. What is it? Is it a mere source of getting information about the world around? Is it a kind of entertainment and time for relaxation? Or, is it a way of expressing oneself? Being so seemingly simple in its sense, the concept of reading and the reading itself does not stop agitating human minds in search of its secret. The author whose works the current paper is concerned with if not found this secret, but at least managed to define the reading for herself. Julia Alvarez believes that reading gives her a powerful model of what she might do with her life (Alvarez 2000).
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This paper is expected to reveal how the poet, essayist, and fiction writer’s burning desire to read more and more led to her becoming a writer. It will be done by examining two works of the author: the novel!YO! and the essay How the Alvarez Girl Found Her Magic and analyzing the issue of reading and its influence on author’s becoming a writer that is common for both works.
Being now a famous American writer of Dominican origin Julia Alvarez in the above-mentioned works establishes her goals and reasons for writing and elaborates on the role of reading in her choosing the profession of a writer. Alvarez successfully explores the issue of becoming a writer in her novel!YO!, as well as in her essay How the Alvarez Girl Found Her Magic by presenting the story of the imagined writer Yolanda (Yo) Garcia and her own story respectively. The reader cannot remain indifferent to both of them as they strike with their sincerity and easiness of narration. The stories presented by the author reveal her steps in becoming a writer and touch the secret sides of the readers’ hearts.
We believe that discussion of the issue under consideration should start with considering the author’s biography, as it will throw light on the writer’s origin and explain the basis of her intentions to become a writer.
Julia Alvarez was born in 1950 in New York City to a family of Dominican immigrants. It is worth admitting the fact that the members of her family were not fond of reading books, neither was she. One day Alvarez’s pride was hurt by an American who laughed at the level of her English. This was a crucial moment in Alvarez’s life. The would-be writer realized that reading and education, in general, opens one a lot of opportunities and empowers him or her to be proud of oneself. Alvarez firmly decided to reach such a level of English so that even Americans could notice her speeches.
That was a starting point of her writer’s career. A grant from one of the US Universities enabled Alvarez to practice her writing skills. Once set a goal to improve her language, now Alvarez gets thousands of words of gratitude from her returned readers throughout the world. No doubt, they feel thankful to the author for her choosing the career of a writer.
Alvarez’s essay How the Alvarez Girl Found Her Magic is a kind of the author’s autobiography. From its very beginning, the reader gets to know about the reading culture in the author’s family: reading was not favored by any of her relatives except her cousin Juan Tom. But his parents were not satisfied with his hobby and sent him to the boarding school in Germany. Nevertheless, he returned from there and did not give up reading. Julia was inspired by Juan’s example, but still, she needed time to realize it. When a young girl, she could hardly imagine herself sitting all day long motionless and reading Cervantes or something else of the kind.
But this is at a young age that her talent as a writer revealed itself. Julia’s mother and grandmother told her Dominican folk stories about cicadas, magical creatures who emerged at night to find food for themselves and disappeared when the dawn came. The stories impressed the girl greatly, she started inventing her own stories and reading the writings of the kind. The first book the girl came to read was A Thousand and One Nights, the story about a girl who saved all women of her country from killing by their sultan using telling him stories for a thousand and one nights until he fell in love with her and refused the idea of killing women.
The idea of the magic power that tales possess had a great influence on the girl; the thing is that she could recognize herself as the main character of the tale because she was also able to tell stories without a pause. An opportunity to influence people and the world around by the power of her words seemed to be rather attractive to a girl.
Another episode that influenced Alvarez’s becoming a writer was the one described above which concerned the author’s offense about her English level. This was the moment when she promised herself that she would know English better than Americans and she started to work for reaching this goal. Alvarez strived for knowledge; she read whatever she could find. It is interesting to admit that the girl chose the books which were not relevant to her school curriculum, as she considered it to be a waste of time to read during the free hours what she could read at school.
Alvarez started with books for small children; they attracted her with an abundance of colorful pictures, and gradually reached the level of scientific literature and fiction works. Thus Alvarez became another reader among her relatives and, what is more important, the first writer in her Dominican family.
A lot of parallels with the author’s life one can find in another work of hers. The title of the novel!YO! is translated like I! but in Spanish, it also serves as a shortening for the name of the main character of the novel, Yolanda. This is a young girl of Dominican origin endowed with a rich imagination and an inborn talent for creating and telling stories that cannot but please the members of her family. Soon, the storyteller transforms into a story-writer possessing incredible writing skills which, nevertheless, do not rejoice her relatives.
Yolanda grows up in a family where reading is not encouraged, but her mother and grandmother know plenty of folk stories that form the basis of the girl’s upbringing. The girl quickly absorbs the information she gets, digests it and soon everyone observes the girl telling her own stories. This makes the whole family happy and proud of Yolanda. But the girl’s trip to America significantly changes her.
In the United States, Yolanda takes up the art of writing and discovers her literary skills she could not even think of before. Yolanda starts to write about the subject she has the best idea of – she starts describing her family. The lives of family members, every event that happens to them, their actions, emotions, and feelings – these were the main themes of Yolanda’s works.
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Depiction of her family’s life soon becomes a reason for conflicts between Yolanda and the main characters of her works. When Yolanda comes back from the United States her friends treat her like a stranger and gradually drift apart. Yolanda’s native culture does not accept her new, American, way of thinking. The conflict between Yolanda and her family worsens as due to her books there is no place for privacy within her family: the author revealed every detail of their life. Normally, the situation upsets Yolanda as she has never had evil intentions; the only thing she cared about was dealing with the subject she was familiar with.
One can find a lot of similarities between Julia Alvarez and the character she created: they both did not like reading and at first there was not a sign of their becoming writers. They both conflicted with their environment and they both persisted in reaching their aims. Starting with the idea of the magic power of the word in the essay, Alvarez confirms her point in the novel. !Yo! is a story about a literary word that helped an ordinary girl from an immigrant Dominican family to become a famous writer with lots of awards and love of thousands of readers all over the world.
Nowadays Julia Alvarez’s works constitute a part of the world literature masterpieces that are interesting for readers irrespective of their age, gender, or social position. The author’s works present a picture of a harsh world where, nevertheless, a person can achieve anything he or she is determined to. Self-confidence, hard work and a strong desire to achieve what one strives for are the essential components of one’s success.
We are inclined to believe that both of the author’s works encourage the readers to reconsider the aims they have in their lives and elaborate concrete plans of achieving them. The examples of the characters from the works discussed might serve as an embodiment of what human will and determination combined with the strong desire might lead to.
Alvarez, Julia. “How the Alvarez Girl Found Her Magic.” Mothers Who Think. 2000. Web.
Alvarez, Julia. !YO! Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 1997.