In 1960, Anita de la Torres is a twelve-year-old girl from a well-off family living in the Dominican Republic. She attends the American school and has never questioned her freedom to live in her country. Now, however, her school is closing for lack of pupils; most of her relatives have emigrated to the United States; her Tio Toni has disappeared; and the rest of her family live in fear because they're suspected of opposing El Trujillo's dictatorial regime.
Anita overhears her father and his friends speaking in code, and how they are threatened by a man identified as "Mr Smith". When attempts to overthrow the dictator fail and hundreds of people are imprisoned and tortured in retaliation, Anita and her mother are forced into hiding themselves, before they can fly away and be free.
According to the author, Anita was named in honour of Anna Frank. Like her namesake, she hides into someone else's house in her case, in a wardrobe closet) and keeps a diary. Her emotions and feeling of growing up are mixed with the difficulties of understand political differences and what it means to live in a family targeted for political dissent.
I like how the characters and stories seem to connect this novel with other books by the same authors. Anita's cousins, who feel to the US at the beginning of this book, are the main characters in How The Garcia Girls Lost their Accents. Anita's father tell her the story of the Mariposas, the Butterflies, who are at the centre of Alvarez's In The Time of the Butterflies.
What I didn't really like in this book: Chucha (the maid/wise woman) having prophetical dreams. Maybe they should have been less clear to interpret. She has a very telling vision about halfway in the book that practically tells you how the novel is going to end. I read criticism for Anita's obsessing with her crushes, being jealous of her sister, being focused on puberty issues. I think htese traits are necessary in this kind of book; they make the narration realistic. Every girl who is about to turn into a teenager would write in her diary about crushes, growing up, and so on. Why wouldn't Anita?
I would definitely recommend this. And I want to read all of Julia Alvarez's books now! After finishing Before We Were Free, I went to the bookshop and bought In TheTime of the Butterflies. Unfortunately, it seems that How The Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents has not been published in Italian yet.
Cover attraction: I like that it is a black-and-white drawing. Very fitting.