by Angie Cruz
reviewed by Michael
Turning to her mother's immigration story for inspiration for her latest novel, Angie Cruz has created a tender-hearted and inspiring character in Ana, the fifteen-year-old narrator of Dominicana. In 1965, when Ana is fifteen, her poor parents in rural Dominican Republic push her into marrying Juan Ruiz, an older man with ambitions. A contract is understood: in exchange for Ana, Juan will develop her parents' land and help the rest of her family immigrate to America. In an instant, teenage Ana is whisked off to a tiny apartment in New York City. She doesn't speak English and doesn't know a single person aside from Juan, who is controlling, abusive, frequently absent, and probably having an affair. In another author's hands, Juan could become a caricature, purely monstrous. But Cruz has created a fully realized human––an unlikable human, yet one whose deep flaws can be understood. His moods are realistically volatile, which makes him all the more terrifying to Ana. When she becomes pregnant, the walls close even more tightly around her. It's only when Juan is trapped in the DR during a military coup that Ana has the freedom to begin forging a life for herself. She explores her Washington Heights neighborhood and takes English lessons at the church across the street. But she also falls in love with Juan's kid brother, Cesar, who is watching over Ana while Juan is away. Throughout the novel, her already complicated life becomes more and more complicated. Cruz is a superb writer on every level: plot, character, backstory, setting, mood, psychology. You will find yourself utterly immersed in the wonderful Dominicana.