book review: Dominicana by Angie Cruz




DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz
Flatiron, 2019


Dominicana was one of the flattest and most poorly written things I have read in a while.  There was a sort of painful obviousness to the way this entire story was told; if you’ve read even a single historical fiction novel about immigration, this will offer nothing new or fresh or dynamic.  The whole thing unfolded so predictably that I don’t think I experienced a single moment of tension or anxiety while reading.

That’s mostly down to the fact that Angie Cruz never earned my investment, and I didn’t believe any of it; I didn’t believe the story and I didn’t believe the characters.  At one point in this book, Ana, the narrator, has resolved to leave her husband, Juan, and return to the Dominican Republic.  Juan is abusive (a decision which I found frustrating in and of itself – the arranged marriage with an abusive black immigrant husband was chock full of stereotypes, none of them challenged), and Juan has just choked her so hard she passed out.  She wakes up, terrified, puts on all of the clothes she owns, and runs to the bus terminal, where she happens to run into her brother-in-law César.  While reminding you that Ana was AFRAID FOR HER LIFE moments ago, this is how the exchange between Ana and César is written:

“He pulls out a cigarette from his jacket pocket.  You leaving without saying good-bye?

It’s not like you’re ever around, busy with all your girls.  I say it in a voice I don’t recognize.  Why am I flirting?  Now?  And with César!”

Some other choice quotes to illustrate the egregious prose:

“I just wish he would say to me that I’m beautiful, whisper in my ear that I’m his only little bird and mean it.  That he would cover the bed with flowers and look at me like a man in love, like Gabriel looked at me as if my curves were a riddle.”

“Juan is pale, César 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.”

“I love him.  I fucking love him.  His mischievous eyes, his firm ass, his muscular legs.”

Moreover, this book was a structural enigma to me. It felt to me like Angie Cruz was so determined to Capture the Immigrant Experience that she crammed in as many details as possible to further this goal while following through on none of them.  The historical details felt shoehorned in to remind the reader of historical context (Malcolm X is assassinated right outside Ana’s door, conveniently) while lacking sufficient commentary; none of the characters’ motives are really explored outside of Ana’s and therefore everyone feels like a caricature or a plot device; the way Cruz attempted to balance Ana’s first-person narration in New York with updates from back home was… perplexing.  The result is a disjointed mess.

The one thing I thought Angie Cruz did well was capture Ana’s loneliness and alienation in the United States, but even the strength of this element began to wane once Ana met César.  Ultimately I hated reading this, and how it earned its way onto the Women’s Prize longlist is beyond me.

If you think you will fare with it better than I did, you can pick up a copy of Dominicana here on Book Depository.

Women’s Prize 2020 reviews: Dominicana | Fleishman is in Trouble | Girl | Girl, Woman, OtherHow We Disappeared | Red at the BoneWeather


37 thoughts on “book review: Dominicana by Angie Cruz

  1. Oh no. Oh oh oh no. I am not looking forward to reading this at all. I am also sorry that this was the first longlisted book you finished – but it probably can only get better from here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This isn’t the kind of book I typically read, but I thought it would at LEAST have good writing. The excerpts you’ve posted are a little physically painful to read. I guess the protagonist being a non-white female is enough for it to win an award or two. For some people that’s ALL it takes (which is kind of insulting, considering how many minority female writers can write their ass off, and this is the kind of crap that gets attention.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was expecting so much more from the writing but I found it painful to get through. And I agree – there isn’t a ton of diversity on this year’s list which is already frustrating, but when a book like THIS gets a spot over so many other incredible books by minority writers I find that very insulting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am so sad you did not like this one, and from your review it seems like I won’t either. On the plus side, let’s hope that it can only get better from here + I got another one of your one star reviews, which is always a treat.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh no, sorry to hear your experience was so bad. I’m reading this at the moment and liking it a lot more than you did, although I totally agree that it follows the literary model of dozens of other immigrant narratives. I felt that Cruz was rather more successful in bringing Ana’s world to life than some authors have managed in writing similar stories, but it’s not a standout for me.

    Also I agree with Callum, there seems to be a curse on the first new book you try from the longlist this year. I’m reading Nightingale Point at the moment and absolutely hating it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This started out as a sort of bland 3 star experience for me and then it just kept getting worse and worse. I’ll be interested in hearing your final thoughts! Anything that can help me explain how this book was longlisted will be good.

      God is this longlist just exceptionally terrible or are we all just unlucky?! I just 2 starred Weather and I’m halfway through Girl which I’m probably also going to 2 star… then it’s How We Disappeared next for me, hopefully that one turns everything around.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve just finished it! My rating dropped as I was reading as well. I was hoping it would take off in a different direction from the typical immigrant plot but it never did.

        I don’t know about the list. I didn’t think the 4 I’d already read were all brilliant but I think they all deserved to be on the longlist. Girl, Weather and Nightingale Point are the three I had the lowest expectations of so I won’t be too dismayed if they all turn out to be rubbish!

        I’m just about to start How We Disappeared too! Fingers crossed 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes! Exactly how I felt! Plus I kind of lost all patience when there was an unnecessary passage about [character redacted] and I thought ‘oh, so that means [character] is going to die’, and then a little while later of course he died, because this was THE MOST OBVIOUS BOOK EVER WRITTEN.

        I wrote out a list of the books I still have high hopes for, in order to not get too discouraged: I think some combination of Hamnet, A Thousand Ships, Girl Woman Other, Actress, Queenie, How We Disappeared, and Mantel could save this! Hannah has been RAVING about Actress.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. When someone decides to write a novel about [insert topic that’s been done to death here] and has nothing new to say, what on earth motivates them? I’m thinking Immigrant Experience and, as one booktuber likes to put it, “Upper Middle Class Connecticut Divorce” novels in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GOD ONLY KNOWS. I ask myself the same thing. I can deal with predictable setup if there’s something else to compensate – stellar prose, believable characters, unique commentary on a familiar subject etc… this book had none of that and I just don’t know why it had to exist.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ugh, I am… not looking forward to this one. I don’t know how I will get through that prose. It’s such a shame you had to start your longlist experience this way! You did get a great review out of it though.

    Liked by 1 person

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