A friend of mine recommend this book to me months ago. She read it for work and told me that it was definitely going to be something I would really enjoy. So, when I got the opportunity to pick up an ARC of the book, I grabbed it. After working with the publisher to give away two copies of the book, I decided it’s a great opportunity to read and whoa. The results blew me away.
Dominicana is the story of a young girl named Ana, who’s about to embark to New York from the Dominican Republic to marry Juan, a man twice her age. The reason? For the opportunity to make money in the country that promises a lot of big dreams. However, the reality of the “American Dream” comes fraught with a husband who doesn’t hesitate to hit her, who doesn’t let her leave the house, who doesn’t let her talk to anyone, who doesn’t give her anything but sadness and a baby. And all along the way, her family asks for money to send home and help them out.
So Ana begins to hustle selling suits, her home cooking, and doing small jobs from her little apartment while her baby continues to grow in her belly and Juan continues to mistreat her including sleeping with another woman.
But when Juan hears about the turmoil in the Dominican Republic, he rushes off to defend his country leaving Ana alone with his younger brother, Cesar. What Cesar provides to Ana is everything she wanted with Juan; nights at the movies, working together, going to Coney Island, eating a hot dog, and the security of someone who can navigate the twisted American streets. What Cesar provides is exactly what Ana wants including a loving companion and when Juan finally returns from his trip, she has to decide if she wants to run away with Cesar or stay at home with her husband.
When I was reading this at first, I thought this had a lot of the same feelings I had for A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum. But as you continue on, you find that this book is much more complex than just a woman struggling to find her voice in her family.
The story takes place over the span of a year during the 1960s right at the height of the Vietnam War, Malcolm X’s death, and around the time 42,000 US Marines are sent to the Dominican Republic to avoid another Cuba happening. Angie Cruz does a great job incorporating a little of this into her book, but with a lot of subtly. It was interesting to include this especially when Juan decides to go down to the Dominican to help. It would have been nice to have this incorporated more into the book, but I can also see how that would deter the reader from the main story. Also, I don’t fault fiction authors for leaving information out. That’s just up to the reader to look up later.
The biggest theme in this whole book is the American Dream. I found it so great that no matter what gets thrown at Ana, she just dusts herself off and creates a new dream for herself. Right before she left the Dominican, she and her family plans on how she’ll go to school in America, then send for some people to continue making money, and eventually getting her whole family to America. Each time her plans fail, she makes up a new plan on how she’ll prosper in this world. When I think about it, this is what we do all the time. We make big plans, try to bring them to fruition, and while we get knocked down by our circumstances or some third-party fails us, we continue to dream about the next thing that’ll get our families into America and hope for the best.
I really love the scenes where Ana’s age is obvious. For the entire book, she’s 15 years old. In some situations, she’s beholden to the “wife” role her mother put on her. She cleans the entire house. She cooks all the meals. She listens to her husband. But then there are moments where her age is apparent. She’ll be wearing Juan’s suits dancing around the house and mimicking him. She’ll listen to music on the radio so loud that the neighbor downstairs knocks on the floor for silence. She even feeds Juan a pigeon she catches on her windowsill just to see if he’ll get food poisoning. I love that Angie Cruz incorporates this into the story. I feel like a lot of times in these stories, the teenager ages way beyond their years because their situation forces them to. While this is happening for Ana, I love that she’s able to keep a little part to herself. It also reinforces the fact that all these terrible things are happening to a kid. Ana is someone you want to look out for because no one is really looking out for her.
Angie Cruz’s writing style also needs to be mentioned. While peppered with fragmented sentence structures and no quotations over the dialogue, I felt like it really embodied Ana and her youth. She’s young and the writing reads that way, but it also has a sense of maturity you don’t see in YA. The phrasing and word choices really make you think you’re reading from Ana’s mind and that immersion ties together her youth, her vulnerability, and her strength extremely well.
The last thing I want to mention is how desperate Ana is to find someone who will stay with her. Being alone in a country where she barely speaks the preferred language and with a husband that treats her poorly, she clings to the people she encounters. From Juan’s clients to her ESL teacher, she’s always looking for a kind hand to spend her days with. It’s obvious that she does feel something for Cesar especially since he’s such a kind person, but when she finally has her baby, she sees who’s the most important person that she knows she can rely on.
- 4/5 Stars
- Find my review on Goodreads
- Find Dominicana by Angie Cruz on Amazon
- Resource read regarding the Dominican Republic during the 1960s
I received a copy of this book from Flatiron Books for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions have not been influenced by the publisher or the author.