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 has to 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, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with Cesar, 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.
Angie Cruz, Dominicana
What have you done to my heart, Angie Cruz?! From the cover to the writing, I loved, loved Dominicana! When I finished reading it I could not stop thinking about Ana (major book hangover). Cruz weaved a remarkable story with complicated but fascinating individuals. I felt an instant connection with this coming of age novel, especially with Ana, the main character. Certain aspects of Ana’s life reminded me of my own story. Like Ana, I married at age 15 but not in an arranged marriage, but by choice. My family moved to the Dominican Republic to become evangelical missionaries. After a few months, numerous issues were surrounding our family, and I felt getting married was my only way out. Because I was a minor, my mom had to sign permission allowing us to get married. We were married for seven years and share three children (now adults). Just like Ana, my relationship with my mom was complex and combative at times. So although my life was not entirely identical to Ana’s, there were commonalities. Time and time again my heart went out to Ana. I was fiercely rooting for her the whole time!
I embraced Cruz’s poignant writing and vivid descriptions. I promise you I could smell the food and hear the music. Her lovely writing took me back to the island and had me throwing down some Dominican recipes! Also, throughout the novel, Cruz mentions faceless clay dolls which are super popular in the Dominican Republic. The dolls reflect and represent the diverse culture and races of the Dominican Republic (African, European, and Indigenous). The iconic, beautiful, faceless dolls are a true Dominican staple and many households in the U.S. have one or more displayed (I have several). Being Dominican-American, I also enjoyed all of Cruz’s Dominicanisms and Spanglish phrases. Dominicana certainly pulled on my heartstrings and the story will remain a top favorite for me. I cannot recommend this book enough! Especially, to those interested in stories about the immigrant experience. In this case via a Dominican family. Please be aware there is some domestic violence in the book. This remarkable novel comes out on 9/3/19, but you should pre-order your copy today. 🙂
A HUGE thank you to Flatiron Books for an advanced copy of this wondrous book in exchange for an honest review. You guys rock!!!!