Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion 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 Cesar, 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 Cesar 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 Cesar 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.
As a finalist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, Dominicana has been on my radar for ages. I can’t tell you the amount of times, I would walk into a bookstore (pre-lockdown) and pick it up before deciding to go with something else. I can’t tell you why I just didn’t feel to get it at the time but I did desperately want to read it.
So, when my chance came to read it on my kindle, I took it. And I don’t regret it.
Woven between the pages of this harrowing story of a young 15-year-old girl forced to marry and immigrate to the US, are themes of loneliness, alienation, racism, love and much more. Ana is such a likeable character. You can’t help but root for her the entire novel. Her dedication to do right by her family and try to make a home in a foreign country was incredibly brave for such a young girl.
“Back home cement means progress. In New York City, it’s the trees and grass that make it feel rich.”
I, personally, enjoy immigration stories when they’re written well. I liked the pacing of this book and the character development. Angie Cruz really mastered the portrayal of loneliness and alienation. That was my favourite thing about this book. Whilst, I acknowledge the immense feeling of alone that immigration brings, especially when you can’t speak the language of your new country, I don’t think I’ve ever truly taken it into consideration properly until I read this novel. From the English classes to starting a brand-new school and becoming withdrawn, a lot of sacrifices are made in order for a better life. Ones that feel like an adaptation of your old culture to fit into the new one. Erasing parts that may emphasise your differences and uniqueness.
Angie Cruz also explores immigration from different perspectives. I started to think about the sacrifices each gender makes when moving to a new country. The similarities and the differences between the two. Ana, to begin with, was hugely reliant on her husband which I feel is only natural. She, however, put up with a lot of physical and verbal abuse.
“To be angry and not have the power to control your life. To not feel safe. To depend on a person who reminds you how they can hurt you, even kill you, at their whim.”
Although, I still don’t see the necessity for that pigeon incident?! What was the meaning? What did it add please? If anyone can tell me, please let me know. I was just left feeling disturbed.
I loved the relationship between Caesar and Ana. They were sweet together and would have liked some kind of happy-ending between the two. The ending itself felt a bit rushed and unfinished. I’m not sure if I truly enjoyed the way the author tried to tie up the plot because I felt Ana deserved a whole lot more, especially after everything she went through.
There was a lot the author brushed over, which is where I struggled with this novel. It begins in the Dominican Republic. I can appreciate some of the history was explored here but I wanted to know more about the culture. The political unrest of both the US and Dominica was clearly very well researched. From discussions about Kennedy to the protests in the US, I can see why this novel has been classed as historical fiction.
The author alludes to racism, which is the only way I can put it. I believe she mentions the assassination of Malcolm X without actually mentioning him – I may be mistaken but I don’t remember his name being mentioned. I really did think she was going to open a discussion about racism in regards to Caesar. I think it would have been interesting but it truly only felt like a added layer that hadn’t been explored enough. She mentions the discrimination Caesar experiences and then moves on…I personally would have liked to have read more about it.
“Together we’re strong. So strong. This is why we sit. This is why we say no. This is why we link arms.”
Regardless, there’s so much to learn from Ana about sacrifices when it comes to immigration and how the responsibility of creating a better life for your family has no age. A great novel that I really did enjoy despite the ending. I would recommend it to those that enjoy stories about immigration and moving to a foreign country.