Friday, 29 November 2019

Book review: Dominicana, Angie Cruz (2019)

Ana is only 15 when she flies to the US and marries 30-year-old Juan, as her parents had urged her to do. So this is a kind of coming-of-age story but it is also very much a story of our times. Juan is cruel to his wife, and also exhibits other personal failings. Ana does her best to make things work at home and her life changes when Juan goes back, for a while, to the Domainican Republic to look after his family’s business interests. While he is gone his brother Cesar looks after Ana, who is pregnant.

With remarkable clarity, Cruz takes us back to New York in 1963 and spins a tale filled with tension as you hope for the best for the main character, through whom most of the narrative is focalised. There are a couple of letters that Ana reads, and which add suspense and colour to the story, but most of it is from her point of view.

This novel bears its political stripes lightly. There is some signalling by the author toward topical issues – such as the Vietnam War and the position of African-Americans vis-a-vis the broader community – but they are peripheral to Ana’s main preoccupations: earning money and surviving.

This reticence on the part of the author is good policy as a person like Ana who is from a third-world country and who has poor English, would not be ideally aware of events happening in New York, or at least not to the same degree as a white person living there. Also, she would not define herself in the same way as, say, a young university-educated person from a European background would. Cruz does place Ana in one demonstration holding hands with other protesters but this ploy is only a sketch and doesn’t serve to advance the story.

What Cruz also does well, on the other hand, is to realistically portray Ana’s sexuality. This is not something you might expect to find in a novel that uses the kinds of themes that ‘Dominicana’ does, but it gives Ana an extra dimension and completes her as a character in a rewarding way. I really liked this novel and look forward to seeing what the author intends to do next.

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