"Something to Declare," by Julia Alvarez. Algonquin...


"Something to Declare," by Julia Alvarez. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. 312 pages. $20.95.

Julia Alvarez's new book embraces readers as if the author were opening the door for unexpected guests into a rather untidy house. Alvarez offers some apologies for the mess, then shrugs as if to say, "You were the one who wanted to come in."

That's apparently the way Alvarez's newest work, "Something to Declare," happened. In a foreword to the essay collection, Alvarez writes that many of the pieces previously published in magazines and journals derived from readers' questions. She compares this inventory of her life by essay to filling out a customs form: "... [T]hat is the pretext of essays: we have something to declare."

Alvarez plunges ahead with a series of essays following the major themes in her life, which have become the major themes in her writing.

Writers discussing their work can be tiresome, but Alvarez turns her discourses into a house party, introducing us to members of her family, acquaintances in her native Dominican Republic, characters from the New York neighborhood where she moved as a youngster. By getting to know them, we learn more about her work as a teacher and writer.

Alvarez offers her untidy personal inventory thoughtfully, if somewhat self-consciously.

Hers is not the hand-to-mouth struggle of many new arrivals in the United States, but she seems to have been acutely aware of her difference. Although her story and voice are unique, Alvarez translates her experience into something that becomes cross-cultural.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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