Alma Cruz has had a successful career as a novelist and professor. Upon retiring from academia, she vows she’s done with writing as well. She wants most of all to return from the U.S. to her family’s homeland, the Dominican Republic, and live quietly. But what to do with those boxes full of notes and manuscripts for the books she didn’t get around to writing? Alma buys a plot of land in a working-class neighborhood in the Dominican Republic. Before she builds a casita to live in, she builds a cemetery for the stories. She burns the boxes—except for two that won’t catch fire—and inters them all. One of the intact boxes holds notes for a book about Alma’s enigmatic father, Dr. Manuel Cruz; the other is research for a book about Bienvenida Inocencia Ricardo, the forgotten first wife of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, a real-life monster who has haunted much of Alvarez’s fiction. Alma hires a woman who lives nearby to guard and maintain the cemetery until she can move in. But Filomena will become indispensable, not just for her kindness and loyalty but because she can hear the stories Alma has buried. Filomena is illiterate, but when she sits in meditation at the books’ graves, their subjects begin to speak to her. The novel’s focus shifts away from Alma to the stories of her father and Bienvenida, and of Filomena herself. As those separate plots touch and interweave, a rich and moving saga of Dominican history emerges, embodied in the lives of irresistible characters. Alvarez returns to many of her familiar subjects: family and especially the relationships among sisters, immigrants’ experiences, the empowerment of women. Her gifts for glowing prose and powerful narrative are still strong.

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