DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz

The sticker on the front of Angie Cruz’s 3rd novel informs me that it was shortlisted for The Women’s Prize For Fiction in 2020. Have a look, it is in fine company. I’m proud to have matured enough as a reader to no longer naively believe these female author’s books are aimed solely at women readers. Sometimes publishers can mislead with the colour schemes or cover art but, for me, a book is a book.

So what did I find when I turned back the cover to start Dominicana. Nicky (my gorgeous lady) had already had a great time getting lost in this book, so she was looking forward to seeing how I enjoyed it.

From the outset the story feels personal. Cruz drew on the experiences of her own Mother and other families to inform and inspire the tale. A fifteen year old girl in the Dominican Republic is found she is left with no choice but to say yes to a marriage proposal and head to New York. Ana, the main character, is hardly taken with Juan (her now husband), nor indeed with the prospect of life in New York, but she is fulfilling her whole family’s dream of immigration.

From the off, Angie Cruz shows Ana’s voice as tender and innocent to the greater world. The writing is crisp, direct and has a marvellous dark humour bubbling underneath it. Ana sees her sister fall in love and has her heart (and body) set on a tender local boy who seems set on loving her. These moments are dealt with brevity but also left me with a deep understanding of Ana’s heart as she prepares to leave.

The story of Ana’s life in New York, her marriage and her encounters as she finds her way is riveting. For a reader like me who enjoys a modern New York story it is a revealing insight into how the racial make up of the city evolved. it is set to the back drop of a civil war back home in the Dominican Republic and the aftermath of the killing of Malcom X which happened in the very street where Ana ends up living.

The story is intimate and at times torturous, a marriage of agreement played out in a city coming to terms with its changing demographic. The pains and betrayals are so cleverly portrayed through Ana’s eyes. I kept having to remind myself that those eyes were a mere 15 years old.

Beyond the small victories and defeats of Ana’s day to day existence in the 6th floor apartment lie the greater issues of family, of loyalty and of the lengths people will go to at the expense of others’ feelings. The story is set some 56 years ago but feels vibrant, fresh and important.

That Cruz has delved so deep into her own family’s history comes through in the narration, and the dialogue. Every word, every thought and emotion, are all so delicately paced in the text. I don’t doubt, as absorbed as I was in the book, I wore a slightly furrowed brow as Ana’s world became occasionally unbearable.

A fine book made even better for me (as an aspiring novelist) by the thorough list of acknowledgements and the history offered in the back. These give a great insight into the amount of work which goes into producing such a belting piece of fiction.

Honestly, have a read.

If you’ve enjoyed my review of Dominicana, why not spread the word?

See all my other book reviews and lists of what I read in 2020 and so far in 2021.

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