Fifteen-year-old Ana Canción never dreamed of moving to America, the way the girls she grew up with in the Dominican countryside did. But when Juan Ruiz proposes and promises to take her to New York City, she has to say yes. Their marriage is an opportunity for her entire close-knit family to eventually immigrate. So on New Year's Day, 1965, Ana leaves behind everything she knows and becomes Ana Ruiz, a wife confined to a cold six-floor walk-up in Washington Heights. Lonely and miserable, Ana hatches a reckless plan to escape. But at the bus terminal, she is stopped by César, Juan's free-spirited younger brother, who convinces her to stay. As the Dominican Republic slides into political turmoil, Juan returns to protect his family's assets, leaving César to take care of Ana. Suddenly, Ana is free to take English lessons at a local church, lie on the beach at Coney Island, see a movie at Radio City Music Hall, go dancing with César, and imagine the possibility of a different kind of life in America. When Juan returns, Ana must decide once again between her heart and her duty to her family.
Angie Cruz based this novel on her mother's recollections and this novel is full of what life was like in Washington Heights in the mid-sixties as well as what was expected of her by both her husband and her family. Cruz is writing about a fifteen-year-old girl and the narration reflects the emotions and excitements of that age, even as Ana inhabits the life of a married, pregnant woman. This is a wonderful book, both as a vivid account of a specific time and place, and as the coming of age story of a young woman thrust into unfamiliar circumstances who fights to make a life for herself.
On page 48, Ana Canción gets raped by Juan, the man she's already agreed to marry in order to escape Rafael Trujillo's repressive Dominican Republic for a "better life" in New York City.
They get to New York, start a tailoring business, and Ana gets pregnant. Yay. She decides to run away from Juan, but his brother César convinces her to come back, be with him. Some things happen; Juan gets a mistress; Ana's pregnancy drags on and on and on; César leaves for Boston, leaves her finally-tasting-love pregnant ass with violent Juan who is in love with another woman.
Some more pages flip...
Juan behaves himself after he comes home from a trip to the Dominican, sort of; the baby's born; Ana's Mamá comes to stay just before the baby's born, the excrement saltates into the rotary ventilation enhancement device, Ana lives to fight another day.
It's a bog-standard immigrant story. It could be told by any woman of any nationality, not one thing here is unique. The author had a very good editor, one who left in enough Dominican Spanish to make the text more engrossing, and she possesses a finely honed sense for how much story she can tell before she hits telenovela territory. I didn't dislike it but in a week I won't remember a thing about it.
Angie Cruz’s novel is set in the 1960s, but her protagonist’s fate could be as real in 2020. Young and naive girls fall prey to seducing men or are forced by their parents to leave their home country for a supposedly better life abroad where they, with the status as an illegal immigrant, hardly have a chance to escape their domestic situation which is often marked by poverty, oppression and being exposed to violence of all kinds by their domineering husbands. Dependence due to lack of language knowledge often combined with isolation makes them sooner or later give up all opposition and succumbing to the life they are forced to live.
It is easy to sympathise with Ana; at the beginning, she is a lively girl with dreams and vivid emotions even though she has also experienced her parents’ strict and at times brutal education. She is quite clever, nevertheless, the new life in New York overburdens her and she needs some time to accommodate and develop coping strategies. However, then, she becomes the independent thinker I had hoped for, but never egoistically does she only think about herself, she also reflects what any step could mean for her family at home whose situation with the political turmoil of 1965 worsens dramatically.
A wonderful novel about emancipation and a strong-willed young woman which allows a glance behind normally closed doors.