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In 1998, the couple founded Finca Alta Gracia, a farm and literacy center located east of Pico Duarte, the highest peak in the Dominican Republic.
"I see them all there in my memory, as still as statues, Mamá and Papá, and Minerva and Mate and Patria, and I'm thinking something is missing now.
And I count them all twice before I realize—it's me, Dedé, it's me, the one who survived to tell the story.
In the body of the book, narrated in turn by each of the four sisters, Alvarez brings them to life, skillfully telling the story of four young girls who come of age wanting the same things most young women hope for: love, family, and freedom.
Each of the sisters chooses to join the revolution in her own time—even Dedé, the one who lives to tell the tale and admits she only got involved "when it was already too late." Scattered through the girls' stories are glimpses of a nation under siege, where the simplest liberties have been stripped away.
Although Julia Alvarez was born in New York City, her family moved back to the Dominican Republic when she was only three months old.
The family was relatively wealthy and lived comfortably until 1960, when authorities discovered that Alvarez's father belonged to an underground effort to overthrow Trujillo's regime.
Updated July 2016 Josephine Reed: Your family left the Dominican Republic in 1960, when you were ten. We had learned that we were coming to the land of liberty, the home of the brave, the land of the free, and this was going to be great.
And what I found was that in the school yard, the kids were not very nice.
They were calling us names, telling us to go back to where we came from. And in a way that was really the hardest moment up to then in my life, because I knew that we couldn't go back, yet I didn't want to stay here.
But thank goodness that I had a good sixth grade teacher and that I found the public library, because they put books in my hand and I discovered that there were worlds I could enter where everybody was welcome.