DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz
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 | How We Disappeared | Red at the Bone | Weather