By Megan Harlan
Updated October 02, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

Julia Alvarez experienced many novelists’ secret nightmare, as she confesses in Something to Declare, a trenchant collection of essays about language and lineage: Upon publication of her debut, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, her mother — upset by perceived family disclosures — refused to speak to her for months. Indeed, for Alvarez, her identities as immigrant and writer are inexorably intertwined: She recalls fleeing the Dominican Republic as a child, enduring racist slurs in 1960s New York City, and vowing to perfect her English. As demonstrated in spry, inviting pieces concerning her writing process and hectically nomadic teaching life, Alvarez has clearly made her second language her own. B+

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