In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), I read Dominicana by Angie Cruz, which was shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction. I greatly enjoyed this story of coming-of-age, the culture of the Dominican Republic, and immigrant life in NYC in the 1960s. Cruz is a phenomenal writer and Dominicana has gained a place on my bookshelf alongside my favorite Latin authors Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. (Earlier this month, I also read Allende’s latest book, A Long Petal of the Sea, and it’s fantastic).

Summary: (1965) Fifteen-year-old Ana Cancion didn’t dream of moving to America nor love Juan Ruiz, the man twice her age promising to take her to NYC, but the marriage was an opportunity for her entire family to eventually immigrate from the Dominican Republic. Ana gives up everything she knows and loves for a lonely and miserable life in a cold, six-floor walk up in Washington Heights. Many times she dreams of escape, but Cesar, Juan’s free-spirited younger brother gives her a reason to stay.

As the Dominican Republic falls under 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, go to the movies, an amusement park and a dance hall, start a business selling paselitos, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide between her own hopes and desires and her duty to her family.

Ana’s struggles to adjust to city life in the US, brought back memories of the year I spent working as a nanny in Paris, when I was 22. While I wasn’t dealing with an abusive marriage nor teenage pregnancy, I was navigating a foreign city, speaking another language, and pinching every penny. I could deeply relate to Ana’s longing for the comforts of family, a simple country life and some sunshine.

I enjoyed the short chapters, with bits of memories and Mamma’s wisdom. I found the ending a bit brief and unsatisfying. I wanted more of a settled, happy ending for Ana, but at least the ending was hopeful and showed her growth and strength. Dominicana is an incredible story of love and self vs. family and survival and most of all…finding your voice.