Book Review: The Woman I Kept to Myself

I have finished reading The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez. I may never finish reading The Woman I Kept to Myself by Julia Alvarez.

In years past, I read Alvarez’s critically acclaimed first novel, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), and In the Time of Butterflies (nominated for the 1994 National Book Critics Circle Award), a wrenching account of life and death under the Trujillo dictatorship. While the novels are wonderful, her poetry resonates with my own combination of writing and political life. My favorite in this volume may be “Ars Politica,” which begins with the child who dives headlong into reading and writing and ends with the fully adult poet’s conclusion:

“The inhumanity of our humanity

will not be fixed by metaphor alone.

The plot will fail, the tortured will divulge

our names, our human story end, unless

our art can right what happens in the world.” 

As a writer, I found myself saying a resounding YES to “Why I Write,” which begins: 

“Unless I write things down I never know

what I think, no less feel, about the world.”

and explains: 

“As far as I’m concerned the world’s a blur

 which each word in a sentence focuses, 

as if I were fine tuning the lenses

on my binoculars from bird to thrush

to Bicknell’s thrush singing in the maple …”

This collection of Alvarez’s poetry speaks so intimately and powerfully to me that it will remain permanently on my desk, where I can turn to it for inspiration as well as for the beauty of story and phrase. 

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