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Review: Dominicana: A Novel by Angie Cruz

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My Interest

Dominicana is one of my top picks from the new Fall 2019 book releases. Immigrant stories are always fascinating to me–whether real or fictional.  I also enjoy the idea of “Reading the World–” reading books from as many different countries as possible as the author of this blog A Year of Reading the World did (though not necessarily the same books). Finally, coming-of-age stories and older man/younger woman stories are always interesting. This book offers all of that.

Recently, I reviewed a book dealing with Castro’s take-over of Cuba, When We Left Cuba. Dominicana is set in the Dominican Republic at the time of the insurrection into which President Johnson, in the midst of ramping up American involvement in Vietnam, sent in U.S. Marines to “restore the peace,” i.e. secure American interests.

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The Story

Ana is married off to an older man who gets her in the United States. The deal is two-fold for her family in the D.R.: money from a land sale and an anchor for immigration to the USA and, hopefully, a better life. During the insurrection, her husband, Juan, returns to the D.R. to see to business matters. He leaves a younger man to look after pregnant Ana who then discovers a new freedom and joy in life that clashes with the values of her upbringing and her dreams of reuniting her family in the USA.

My Thoughts

The older man–younger woman [girl–she was 15] aspect was portrayed with a careful hand. Juan was typical of his time and place in that he had one set of standards for his wife and one for himself, but Ana does not seem surprised by anything, which was good.

Ana was very young, trying to make sense of her marriage to a controlling, older man while living in a very different world to the one in which she’d grown up. I thought she handled it all quite well.  As a coming-of-age and an immigrant story, the book works very well. Ana’s efforts to grow and educate herself rang true, as did her homesickness and longing for her siblings and parents.

I felt Juan, the husband, was not well developed–he seemed a caricature of a type of man, more than a believable person. I really did not see the need, though, to set the book right at the Audubon Ball Room. Yes, it was a very volatile time in the USA and in New York but Malcolm X’s was assassination as part of Ana’s “entry” to America seemed unnecessary. I thought the Marines entering D.R. was much more meaningful to the story.

I look forward to reading more from this author as well as reading her backlist. She is a great find.

My Verdict

3.5

Dominicana: A Novel by Angie Cruz

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Review: Halsey Street by Naima Coster

Reading Around the World: The Dominican Republic

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Have You Found Your Life Yet?

The Story

Penelope Grand is the adult only child of a depressed father and a mother who couldn’t take her husband’s depression any longer. Her father, Ralph, grew up in an orphanage in New York, her mother is from “The D.R.” [Dominican Republic]. Ralph’s life was tied up in his now failed record shop. He has since had any number of trials and tribulations. Mirella, Penelope’s mother, has returned to the D.R. to make a new life. Penelope, too, has tried a new life–in Pittsburgh places. Now she is back in Brooklyn to care for her Dad and sort out her life–only….[no spoilers].

My Thoughts

I love it when I find a debut that doesn’t read like a debut. Coster has the strength and determination as a writer to pen a character who isn’t un-loveable but also isn’t very likable. Her writing is excellent–I especially enjoyed the memories of Penelope’s visits to her Grandmother in the D.R. and of her Grandmother’s early life.

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What I didn’t like, as I alluded earlier, was Penny–Penelope. She was sulky, rude, angry with a chip on her shoulder the size of Argentina. She can think of no way to describe or speak of physical intimacy being “F—” which got very, very tiresome.[Minor Spoiler alert!!!] She kept referring to her short-term lover’s wife as “the landlord” (which she was) and never as “his wife.” That was very indicative of her way of seeing the world. [End of minor spoiler]. Her bluntness was beyond rudeness–it was often savage. She nurses her hurt like it was the only way to sustain her life. She needs therapy–and fast. Maybe even a Rottweiler as a service dog–a service dog to those crossing her path so they can be safe from her!

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She finally has a small epiphany about the time her mother asks her the question at the top of this review. Sadly, she does not go on to sort it all out. I would have thought the obvious answer was staring her in the face: With all those rich white hipsters invading the neighborhood, find a new location and reopen the record shop. Hipsters LIVE for music on “Viynal” almost as much as they do for coffee. Heck, throw in a coffee bar while you are at it! Paint the place yourself–showcase your art, don’t waste that year you sulked through the Rhode Island School of Design! Let people SEE your talent instead of your nastiness for a change, Pen!

Halsey Street by Naima Coster

This book is currently on sale for Kindle for only $4.99.