Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Dominicana by Angie Cruz

Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Published by John Murray on the 5th September 2019.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she must say yes. It doesn't matter that he is twice her age, that there is no love between them. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan's free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay.

As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family's assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, dance with César at the Audubon Ballroom, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.

In bright, musical prose that reflects the energy of New York City, Dominicana is a vital portrait of the immigrant experience and the timeless coming-of-age story of a young woman finding her voice in the world.

Dominicana is loosely based around Angie Cruz's mother's experience of immigrating to New York in the 1960s. At its heart it is a story of immigrant women and girls from many cultures who are forced, either literally or through a powerful sense of duty, to put the potential improvements to their families' situations ahead of their own personal life wishes. Ana is just fifteen when she is married off to Juan Ruiz. She leaves home alone wearing a completely inappropriate frothy dress with a man who couldn't really care less to a ceremony that doesn't amount to anything resembling a wedding. Ana's realisation that she has been coerced into accepting a forever after that is unlikely to ever be happy is a shocking moment in her story, even more so I thought as it is obvious even her mother has chosen to believe dreams rather than acknowledge the truth of her daughter's New York adventure.

I was initially quite irritated by Ana because she is so incredibly passive. This isn't especially a 'cultural thing' I don't think because Ana's older sister chose an alternative course for herself, but Ana's lack of self-determination is exploited by her family. They see her as their only chance to abandon Dominican Republic poverty for American affluence and the Ruiz brothers' flash behaviour only serves to perpetuate the myth that easy lives are just there for the taking in New York. If the brothers had been honest about their struggles in the city, Ana could have had very different prospects.

Dominicana grew on me as a novel the more I read. I never actively disliked reading it, but did find the first quarter or so less gripping than I expected. Perhaps all the chatter and hype last year had unfairly elevated my expectations. Once Ana begins to believe in herself however, I was gripped and couldn't read fast enough!

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Angie Cruz / Historical fiction / Books from Dominican Republic

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