Monday, September 2, 2019

Review: 'Dominicana'

By Angie Cruz
Literary Fiction
September 2019
Flatiron Books
ISBN: 978-1250205933

A teenager forced into an arranged marriage and motherhood, taken away from her country home in the Dominican Republic and abandoned in a New York City apartment by a brute who leaves her for months at a time, and a family back home who want money and for her to bring them to America, this is the novel Dominicana. Even in hard conditions, Ana and her creator, Angie Cruz, see the world as a place in which to work hard and make dreams come true.

Ana is 15, younger sister to a girl who loves to fall in love and older sister to brothers who are, well, brothers. In a big family, Ana dreams of discovering what else is out there beyond the hubbub of her boisterous relatives. Juan Ruiz, who is twice her age, proposes to her the first time when she is 11. He is one of their community's famous Ruiz brothers, the hard-working clan who has prosperity on the brain.

What's even more important to the Ruiz men than a wife for Juan is land Ana's family has squatted on for years. The men have ideas for its use. On New Year's Day, 1965, Juan takes Ana to New York, where he has been hustling work for a few years. Practically alone, speaking little of the language and tethered to a frustrated husband who loves another woman and has not yet hit it big as he thought his hard work and charisma would do, Ana still dreams of better times. Learning English, taking other classes, bringing her family to the States so she is not alone, being able to do things.

After she discovers she is pregnant, Juan leaves her to go back home to try to secure that property and the restaurant the brothers have been trying to build while domestic unrest upends the country. Back in New York, Ana and Juan's brother, Cesar, try to sell the food she makes at the World's Fair. They both dream of making it without losing themselves or their essential goodness in the process.

By the time the reader leaves Ana, she has weathered all the storms that life has thrown at her. Even when hurt, Ana does not lose her determination to keep on going and try to find a better way.

This essential resoluteness and resilience is the core of Ana and the novel. Dominicana is a clear-eyed view of a young woman who comes of age during tumultuous times and a chaotic family situation. Her mother's cynical philosophy resonates, but Cruz makes it clear that while Ana considers what her mother has taught her, Ana also is determined to make her dreams real.

While still at home, after one brother is stung by a bee, their mother tells Ana:

All girls have to make sacrifices for the good of the colony. They sting to protect their sisters and brothers. And they will do anything to protect the queen. Every colony needs a queen. That's why they feed her all that jelly, so she gets big and fat and lays all the eggs.

Mama rocks on her chair rubbing her stomach while we all sat on the grass by her feet.

Will Ana become a queen or remain a worker bee? And if she is royalty, what will her reign be like?

This is why Dominicana is a fascinating novel of a woman coming of age and a clear-eyed immigrant's story that combines dreams with hard reality. Its publication is Tuesday. It is easy to see why early readers such as Sandra Cisneros have praised Ana's story.

©2019 All Rights Reserved Reviews and reprinted with permission

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