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.
I really wanted to love this book. I heard such great things and read some amazing reviews but it just didn't do it for me unfortunately. I can see why a lot of people love it but it just didn't meet my expectations. It was our January Book Club pick so I was determined to finish it and hope that in the end I would find redeeming features, which in ways I did and I highlight them below.
Dominicana is a real and raw account of what so many girls and women go through. Despite this story being set back in the 60s, I'm sure many other girls from the Dominican Republic and beyond, go through similar experiences to this day. It is a story that addresses some really important issues; domestic abuse, underage marriage, rape and more. So many poor girls find themselves forced into situations that they have no control of, but that are necessary to support their families. It is a coming of age story that many of us will never experience and it is hugely eye opening to fully understand what these girls go through.
The story portrays these topics really well but I just found the pace was very slow and it didn't grip me. Maybe this speaks to a level of insensitivity that I have. I shouldn't expect that it be more dramatic or more gripping, this is what life was, and is, like for many women and girls in this position. However, it still felt like nothing really happened for most of the book and once again, maybe that's exactly what Cruz was trying to portray. The existence that these women and girls have is so mundane and not their own; they merely exist, they don't get to live. These nuances just didn't seem to present themselves clearly to me as I read it.
Another reason why I didn't fall in love with the book was because I didn't connect with any of the characters. I found Juan downright repulsive, Ana was a little annoying and her mum was even worse! Cesar was ok and had some redeeming features but still lacked a certain depth that would have been nice to see.
Now it's not all bad news, I did enjoy the last 30% or so of the story. It finally started to build momentum and things were finally happening. It was like a hibernation period stopped and the story started to take shape.
In summary, it felt like it was a mix of 'A Woman is no Man' and 'Clap When You Land.' It touches on similar themes and topics and gives us a great insight into life in the Dominican Republic and life for those who emigrate to New York.
I am still giving the book a 6 based on many of the above points. Just because I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped I would doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading. It is and could very well connect with you in the way it didn't for me.
IN 3 WORDS/PHRASES:
'That's why they call it falling in love, we have no control over it.'
Ana, I feel she was the only character who had real depth and that I liked. As stated above, I found some of the others really annoying.