Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020
By: Angie Cruz
“How many women get to choose who to marry and can truly dictate their own life? As God is my witness, my daughter will have choices.”
My summary of the book:
Dominicana is a story about a 15-year-old Dominican girl, Ana Cancion, who is arranged to marry a man twice her age, Juan Ruiz. Like most arranged marriages, this is done to provide financial benefit to the Cancion family. The Ruiz family is a prosperous family, according to Dominican standards. Marrying Juan Ruiz brings hope of immigration to America for the Cancion family. Although Ana has never dreamed of moving to America and doesn’t love Juan, she knows she must do this for her family. During this time in the Dominican, political turmoil creates more instability and uncertainty.
When Ana reaches New York City, she feels completely lost. Her new home and neighbourhood are entirely different from her home in the Dominican. She is initially frightened to leave her apartment or even answer the door. This isolation from the world around her makes Ana feel lonely and homesick. She is stuck with the sole companionship of Juan and the friends he brings to their apartment. Ana meets Cesar, one of the Ruiz brothers, when she lands in New York City. When Juan decides to take a trip back to the Dominican, Ana is left in the care of Cesar. As she spends more time with Cesar, she begins to develop feelings for him. She will eventually have to decide between love and her duty to her family.
“Love, love, love. What good is it, if it can’t put food on the table.”
My thoughts on the book:
Angie Cruz in Dominicana tells an interesting story about a young woman leaving her family for a better life in America. Similar stories have been told in numerous historical fiction novels; however, I think this story is just as important as the rest and deserves to be told. Cruz also mentions that this story is loosely based on her mother’s immigration to America, adding a personal touch to her book.
Cruz chooses to write this book in the first person and includes no quotation marks when people are speaking. This writing style was different than most books I have read, and at first, I found it a bit difficult to follow. At times, I was confused where the conversations began and ended. Eventually, I got used to this writing style, but I am not sure that I enjoyed it. I think if Cruz followed the same conventional dialogue used in most books, it would not have taken away from the story and avoided confusion.
Personally, I could read endless stories about women and their different journeys through life. I have never read a story about a woman immigrating from the Dominican to America. Even though I have read similar immigration stories, I still enjoyed reading this account and understanding Ana’s struggle. Ana shows another perspective of the endless sacrifices women endure to protect their families.
“A man doesn’t know what he thinks until a woman makes him think it.”
As for the story itself, I found it pretty predictable. Almost from the beginning of the story, you know how each obstacle will be overcome, and you know what choices Ana will make. I don’t think it means this story isn’t good; it just shows how women from many backgrounds who experience the same challenges in life often choose similar paths. However, the predictability of this story prevented me from really getting attached to the characters or the plot. This book didn’t captivate me the way I thought it would.
When it came to Ana’s sexual encounters, I found this pretty difficult to read. I couldn’t get past how young she was, which made me feel uncomfortable reading these sections. I completely understand the importance of this character being young, especially for the authenticity of the story but, it was just a bit difficult to read about such a young girl going through these experiences.
Lastly, I loved learning about the political history of the Dominican Republic. I know nothing about this topic, and I love when a book piques my interest into something new.
Overall, I thought this was a good story on immigration. The reader learns about the childhood difficulties of an impoverished family, the need to flee to America and the struggles of living in a new country. The inclusion of a love story helps bring some joy back into the plot. Her writing style is unique and sets Dominicana apart from other more conventional books. I look forward to reading more from Angie Cruz in the future.
“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. I understand.”
This book is shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2020 along with five other novels. Have you read any of the other nominees? If so, any recommendations?