The Garc as Dr. Carlos (Papi), his wife Laura (Mami), and their four daughters, Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sof a belong to the uppermost echelon of Spanish Caribbean society, descended from the conquistadores. Their family compound adjoins the "palacio" of the dictator 's daughter. So when Dr. Garc a 's part in a coup attempt is discovered, the family must flee.
They arrive in New York City in 1960 to a life far removed from their existence in the Dominican Republic. Papi has to find new patients in the Bronx. Mami, far from the compound and the family retainers, must find herself. Meanwhile, the girls try to "lose" themselves by forgetting their Spanish, by straightening their hair and wearing fringed bell bottoms. For them, it is at once liberating and excruciating being caught between the old world and the new, trying to live up to their father 's version of honor while accommodating the expectations of their American boyfriends. Acclaimed writer Julia Alvarez 's brilliant and buoyant first novel sets the Garc a girls free to tell their most intimate stories about how they came to be at home and not at home in America.