Dominicana by Angie Cruz
Published by John Murray, 2020
My rating: ⭐ ⭐
My biggest issue with Dominicana is its paint-by-numbers approach to reflecting the immigrant experience. We follow 15-year-old Ana, who moves to New York from the Dominican Republic in the 1960s following an arranged marriage, with the hope that her family will soon be able to follow. Instead, she finds herself trapped in a loveless relationship, largely confined to a cold apartment.
From there, we hit pretty much every narrative beat you’d expect, with the story adhering to a very predictable and uninspiring trajectory. Harmful stereotypes (like Ana’s abusive, immigrant husband) go frustratingly unexplored; historical details (like the assassination of Malcom X, which takes place right outside Ana’s door) are so plonked in and glossed over they feel like a lazy attempt to establish emotional resonance; and the supporting characters are entirely one dimensional, resulting in a lot of untapped potential.
This may have been easier to contend with if the prose had been outstanding, but sadly this wasn’t the case either. Though Cruz’s prose is certainly readable on a technical level, it’s also very clumsy at times, weighed down by overblown metaphors (“César [is] the color of the crunchy skin off of juicy roast chicken thigh, creamy hot chocolate, buttered toast, dark honey, the broth of slow-cooked sancocho.”).
The one thread that holds initial promise is Ana’s sense of isolation and cultural bewilderment when she first arrives in the US. But as with everything else, it feels underdeveloped – and it’s arguably undone when Ana falls for another man with whom she quickly finds the connection and company she lacked.
I’d like to give this the benefit of the doubt and say my mind wasn’t best equipped to engage with it given everything that’s going on right now, but I suspect even that is being generous. In truth, this just wasn’t for me, unfortunately. Perhaps those with experiences closer aligned with Ana’s will feel a connection to the story; for me, it felt familiar, flat, and underwhelming.
If you think you’ll have better luck with it, or if you’re also making your way through the Women’s Prize longlist, you can pick up a copy of Dominicana from Book Depository by clicking here.
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