Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Dominicana by Angie Cruz & a Visit to the Dominican Republic

Playa Sosúa in the Dominican Republic
Inspired by her Dominican mother, Angie Cruz decided to write a realistic novel about immigration and assimilation. Dominicana is a quiet story of savory dishes, simmering passions, and the twisted bonds of family. Although this 2019 novel was written for adults, it would crossover well to teens.

In 1964 fifteen-year-old Ana Canción is wed to Juan Ruiz, a man more than twice her age. Her desperate family is struggling to make a living in the Dominican Republic. Juan and his charismatic brothers are working in New York but still operate a restaurant business back home. The brothers have an eye on the Canción farmland for expansion. Juan also wants a Dominican wife to start a family in New York City. Their homeland is in turmoil, and this union could bring both families more economic security and the salvation of chain migration.

Dutiful Ana pretends to be eighteen to fly to NYC. She arrives to shocking cold and isolation, unable to speak the language or to deal with city life. Her new husband is abusive and demands that she stay home alone, but Ana schemes to start a business and to learn English while Juan is back in the DR. And then there is Cesar, Juan's younger brother, who reminds her how to laugh again....

Dominicana's gorgeous cover caught my eye at Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick. I'm taking Spanish at Bowdoin College and reading Dominican American authors to research a new book. I started with nonfiction, but you can learn so much more about a culture by listening to its music, tasting its food, and reading its stories. Angie Cruz, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Junot Diaz have taught me slang I won't learn at school and a deeper appreciation of Dominican culture. They are phenomenal writers who create unforgettable characters in tough settings. Cruz's literary style with strong imagery evokes a sensory reaction. You don't just read Dominicana, you experience Ana's struggles as your own and hope for a better future. A deeply personal and realistic story such as this will engender empathy for immigrants and for victims of abuse or prejudice. I'd recommend this book to anyone.

Like Angie Cruz, a true family story inspired me to write historical fiction. During World War II my great grandfather, Arthur Lamport, helped to set up a farming settlement in the Dominican Republic for Jewish refugees. Other nations imposed strict quotas on Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, but the Dominicans opened their country to about 850 Jewish settlers. One small nation of only 1.5 million residents saved near three thousand more lives through visas. Most people, even other Jews, have never heard of Sosúa.

Last month I visited the Dominican Republic to practice Spanish and to see what remains of the Jewish settlement in Sosúa. I found a beautiful beach, their old synagogue, and more to share later.

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@Barrie Summy


Barrie said...

Fascinating....both your review of Dominicana and your family history. Also, thank you for the photos. Did I ever tell you one of my sisters spent a year in the DR? I'll send her the link to your review. I look forward to reading this new manuscript! Thank you for reviewing!

Jenn Jilks said...

Great review!
We went to DR a couple of years ago. It was quite the place.
Good for you for wriitng. It's hard work, I know.

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, yes, you did tell me about your sister, and when I'm further along with my research, I should chat with her about her experiences there. Thanks for passing on the link and for hosting the book group!

Jenn, thanks! The DR would be a fun place to visit for fun. I haven't started writing since I need to learn enough Spanish to do archival research. The academic books are fortunately in English so I'm reading those now. I'd also like to interview more former refugees, although there aren't many left after all this time.

Lyndi Lamont said...

How interesting, Sarah! Both the book and your family history. I look forward to reading your book when it comes out.

Linda McLaughlin

troutbirder said...

Wonderful sounding and you approach to researching a similar setting is spot on....good luck

cynthia said...

Your trip and the book sound wonderful--especially together. I love immersing myself in something--anything!

Sarah Laurence said...

Lyndi, troutbirder, and Cynthia, thanks for the encouragements to write this new book!

Donna said...

Thanks for this good review. I like your family history story there as well. I'm going to add this book to my to read list.

A Cuban In London said...

Beautiful review. I didn't know you were taking Spanish. I hope it's going well.

Greetings from London.

Sarah Laurence said...

Donna, I think you'll really enjoy how this book centers on wives and mothers in everyday life, a perspective often overlooked.

ACiL/Mario, thanks! You inspired me to try another language. I started first year in September at Bowdoin. I have a wonderful teacher so it is going well, but it's lots of work since languages don't come easily to me, and I'm the only adult auditor in a class of undergraduates. I often accidentally speak/write French, but the grammatical similarities between French and Spanish help more than they hurt. My comprehension is much better than my speaking. However, the Dominican accent is difficult even for Spanish speakers. Dominicans speak quickly and drop the final consonants (quite like French). I have so much more to learn!

Powell River Books said...

I like reading books about places I've been or plan to visit. The pictures from your visit to the Dominican Republic are lovely. I especially like the sandy beach. - Margy