Publisher: John Murray
Cover Design: Adalis Martinez
Book Depository: Hardback
Content Warnings: Rape – both statutory and marital; cheating; domestic violence; racism
The content warnings mentioned above give some clue as to how difficult Dominicana is to read, whether you are personally affected by these things or not. From child marriage to marital rape to domestic violence, this book outlines the horrific journey many children are forced to embark upon in order to ‘better’ the lives of their families. Ana is fifteen years old when she is essentially sold to Juan, a man who is twice her age, and not particularly pleasant. Her mother is thrilled, as this means she will be able to transport her family to the US where life will supposedly be better for everyone. However, she does not think about the implications for her daughter. Or rather, she does, and chooses to ignore them.
Ana is subject to a range of awful experiences, included being beaten by the people who claim to love her, and being made pregnant despite only being a child herself. Whenever someone appears to be on her side, they either betray her, or leave her behind. Sections of this novel made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, most notably when she has a romance halfway through, where she feels she has fallen in love and has met the person she wants to be with for the rest of her life. In reality, she is a child and has clearly been manipulated into some kind of relationship by someone who is an adult, and this is something that happens everyday without as much scrutiny as it calls for.
Exploring marriage as a transaction allows Cruz to open up a dialogue about forced marriage, and especially child forced marriage, as children are clearly viewed as commodities to be bought or sold in this novel. No one seems to be particularly shocked that a fifteen year old is being married off to someone twice her age who is clearly only marrying her in the first place so he can get his hands on her parents’ land. When political unrest in the Dominican Republic causes Juan to have to return, it becomes explicitly clear what his intentions were all along as he attempts to extract Ana’s father’s land for himself and his brothers.
Ana is an extremely bright young woman, as we see from her learning English, and creating a food business for herself, which allows her to earn money independent from Juan. She begins to understand the individual nuances people possess and how she can exploit these to her own benefit. Had this been a typical run of the mill story, this could be considered manipulative, but as Ana herself has been exploited, used and abused, it makes sense for her to use some of these methods in order to begin some semblance of a life for herself and her unborn daughter. I found myself rooting for Ana, hoping for her to get what she needed in order to make her life more comfortable – no child should ever be subjected to the things she is subjected to within the pages of this book.
I’ve noticed a few reviews which express that the lack of speech marks make the story confusing, but for me, they made sense for the story Cruz was telling. Ana is a young girl who has been plucked from her family and her closest friend to live in a strange country with a man who is horrible to her, it makes sense that her thought pattern will be more rushed and incoherent at times. The story is not uniform and straightforward, and the lack of speech marks reflects this. It does require a little more attention at times, but that only forces the reader to pay attention to what is happening to our main character.
Family duty is an overarching theme in this novel, to the point where Ana is willing to sacrifice her own happiness for the sake of her family, even though her mother does not appear to have given any thought to her mental wellbeing throughout the process of moving to the US. Having being abused by my own mother, it was somewhat difficult to read the sections where Ana’s mother was hurting her, both physically and mentally, so bear that in mind if you are in a similar situation to me. However, it allowed me to sympathise with Ana on a deeper level, as I could at least understand this one aspect of her life.
If you are looking for a book that discusses the immigrant experience, I would recommend this one, as it is calls for a better understanding of what can happen if you are a young woman in a country that is rife with political unrest. It seems that young women are valued more as commodities than as individuals with feelings and aspirations, and books like this can help readers such as myself gain a more intersectional view of feminism. Dominicana is inspired by Cruz’s mother’s story, which I feel makes it a good story to read if you are looking for stories based in truth and real experiences. There haven’t been many books this year so far that I have felt deserved a five stars, but this is certainly one of them.
I will be attempting to read all sixteen of the women’s prize for fiction longlisted books before the winner is announced, so look out for reviews for all of them on here. Let me know if you are reading any, and feel free to link me to your reviews!
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