Afterlife Discussion Questions
About the Book: Afterlife
Antonia Vega, the immigrant writer at the center of Afterlife, has had the rug pulled out from under her. She has just retired from the college where she taught English when her beloved husband, Sam, suddenly dies. And then more jolts: her bighearted but unstable sister disappears, and Antonia returns home one evening to find a pregnant, undocumented teenager on her doorstep. Antonia has always sought direction in the literature she loves—lines from her favorite authors play in her head like a soundtrack—but now she finds that the world demands more of her than words.
Join author Julia Alvarez on BookClub to dive deeper into the inspiration for Afterlife, the complexities of life, and the role creativity can play for so many of us. Julia also shares how growing up in a family of all sisters in a patriarchal society influenced the book, as well as the importance of hearing stories from elders and investing in your friendships. If you love Alvarez’s writing, you’ll come to love her as an author and a human being even more.
- In chapter one, Antonia wonders “who is allowed to access care” when watching Mario clean the gutters on her house. How would you answer this question in light of current events in this country and abroad?
- In chapter one the author writes, “A part of you dies with them, Antonia now knows, but wait awhile, and they return, bringing you back with them. So, is this all his afterlife will amount to? Sam-inspired deeds from the people who loved him?” How does this match your own experiences with loss? How have loved ones manifested for you in the aftermath of their passing?
- There are several “rules of sisterhood” explicitly mentioned in the book (for example, “Never say an outright no to a sister.” “Never remain dry-eyed when a sister is crying”). Did you identify with any of these rules? If you were to write your own rules for dealing with family members, what might they include?
- In chapter five, Mario uses a fanciful phrase to describe Estella’s betrayal, and Antonia is surprised to hear such language “coming from the mouth of this impoverished and uneducated man.” What does this suggest about the ways in which our biases impact our relationships with others?
- In chapter Five, Antonia must decide between staying in Vermont to care for Estella or going to Massachusetts to be with her sisters as they continue their search for Izzy. She wonders, “What is the right thing to do?” Why do you think she makes the choice that she does? How would you have reacted in her situation?
- After Sam’s death, Antonia keeps only two of the magnet fridge quotes her sisters have sent her over the years: “Uncle Sam Wants You” and “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Why do you think those were the two she kept?
- How did you feel when Izzy agreed to accept treatment at Liberty House? Did you believe that she would go through with it or question if she was being honest?
- After Izzy’s death, Antonia becomes the eldest. What does this mean for her? How do you imagine that she will step into this new role?
- How did the story of Estella and Mario impact your beliefs about immigration in the United States? Did you agree with the choices Antonia made to help them?
- In chapter two, the author writes, “The landscape of grief is not very inviting. Visitors don’t want to linger. The best thing you can do for the people you love is to usher them quickly through it.” In a way, the book is a user’s manual for grief—what are some of the lessons it offers?
- We learn about Sam through Antonia’s recollections of him and when she wonders how he might respond to a particular situation. What did you come to understand about his character? Did your perceptions of Sam shift over the course of the novel?
About the Author
Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. She is the author of six novels, three books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eleven books for children and young adults. She has taught and mentored writers in schools and communities across America and, until her retirement in 2016, was a writer in residence at Middlebury College.
Her work has garnered wide recognition, including a Latina Leader Award in Literature from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” In the Time of the Butterflies, with over one million copies in print, was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for its national Big Read program, and in 2013 President Obama awarded Alvarez the National Medal of Arts in recognition of her extraordinary storytelling.
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