Review: Dominicana

Set in the 1960s, Ana is a 15-year-old girl from the Dominican Republic growing up in poverty, who is forced to marry Juan, a man twice her age, and move to NYC. Her parents, particularly her mom, are blinded by the hope of being able to migrate to the U.S., and Ana seems to be their only way out. In turn, she sacrifices her adolescence for the sake of helping her family. Juan promises to take care of their daughter, and everyone believes him.

Young and naive, Ana thinks her life in NYC will be perfect. But her marriage soon becomes unsettling. He’s unfaithful, violent, and manipulating. Dominicana is a moving and heartbreaking coming-of-age story, discussing topics on immigration, love, and family. It portrays the hardships first-generation immigrants experience before adapting to a new culture. It’s also a story about women standing up for themselves amid a misogynist society.

I did not expect to be so captivated by this book. Ana felt like a little sister I’d wished to guide and advise, give her a hug and tell her things will get better. Because they do, everything always passes.

Overall rating: 4/5

“Don’t forget about us. No lights are too bright to forget where you come from. Remember. Remember.”

Angie Cruz, Dominicana

Review: A Room Of One’s Own

First published in 1929, “A Room Of One’s Own” is an extended essay based on two lectures that Woolf did a year before. Here she explores the role of women in literature throughout time until the present (or her present rather). Despite this text being nearly a century old, it’s still relevant today.

Woolf argues how literature has been predominantly a male territory. Women didn’t have access to education in previous centuries, and even those who did try to write were often criticized and minimized by their male counterparts. It’s interesting how she mentions that the topics considered important were war and sports —activities only allowed for men. Yet topics regarding domestic living and dresses were categorized under “trivial”. But how were women supposed to write about war and sports when their day-to-day life consisted of other activities?

In sum, she concludes that for a woman to write a novel, she must have a room of one’s own (space and privacy) and earn 500 pounds per year (which today would be approximately 30,000£).

Despite presenting a difficult scenario for her fellow listeners back then —and probably still difficult for her readers now—, she still encourages them to write. And not only to write as a “woman” but as a person. A whole person, embracing both the feminine and masculine parts of our minds.

When Virginia Woolf wrote this, though women had gained more rights, there was still a long process ahead. If only she could still be alive and see all the women writers that have received prizes, and how many have become best-sellers. I believe she’d be surprised and proud of how literature has become more accessible now — for both readers and writers.

“Literature is open to everybody. Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind”.

Virginia Woolf, A Room Of One’s Own

Review: Summer

Summer is the fourth book in Ali Smith’s seasonal quartet. Once again, I feel that my reviewing skills won’t do justice to what Smith has accomplished. But I’ll try nonetheless.

Here’s the synopsis: In the present, Sacha knows the world’s in trouble. Her brother Robert just is trouble. Their mother and father are having trouble. Meanwhile the world’s in meltdown – and the real meltdown hasn’t even started yet. In the past, a lovely summer. A different brother and sister know they’re living on borrowed time. This is a story about people on the brink of change. They’re family, but they think they’re strangers. So: where does family begin? And what do people who think they’ve got nothing in common have in common? Summer.

Here we come full circle. Previous seasons become connected with the plot presented in Summer. The characters intertwine one way or another, allowing us to learn more about them. Such is the case with Daniel Gluck. In Autumn he’s presented as Elisabeth’s neighbor. Here, however, we learn about his past and his family. (I won’t go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.)

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Review: The Secret History

I don’t know where to begin or how to write a proper review for this book. I believe The Secret History is considered a contemporary classic because it has many layers that can be peeled off — just to reveal more layers underneath. An in-depth analysis can result from a literary and philosophical point of view. If you’re looking forward to such an analysis, I am sorry to disappoint you.

Here goes my attempt at a review, anyway.

In simple terms, the story is about a murder. But it goes beyond that, the main themes being morality, guilt, social class, illusion, and the way beauty and horror correlate. Is an action truly wrong if the motives were for the right reasons? What can drive the seemingly cold-hearted characters to the verge of madness?

The characters were morally grey and privileged. I couldn’t empathize with them, as they were aware of their actions and possible consequences, but proceeded regardless. They went down a rabbit hole that soon became a bad omen. But the purpose of this book is not to provide us with likable characters we can be fond of, quite the opposite. It simply reveals their ugly truths hidden behind seemingly perfect facades. It’s the reason why the main character, Richard Papen, is an unreliable narrator — although it becomes more visible towards the end.

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Review: Girl, Interrupted

In this brief memoir, Susanna Kaysen narrates her experiences at the age of 18 when she tried committing suicide and was placed in McLean, a psychiatric hospital where famous figures, such as Sylvia Plath, had been institutionalized there too. Kaysen stayed there for two years with other young women her same age who became her friends.

Through vignettes without chronological order, she narrates the disturbing way mental health was treated in the 60s. It surprised me how normal it was back then to use shock therapy on patients, regardless of whether the patient showed signs of improvement or not. While it’s still used today in certain places, its’ popularity overall has declined. The field of psychiatry had made some progress, but there is still a long way to go.

Amidst her diagnosis, Susanna Kaysen was lucid and observant of what was happening within herself and her surroundings. Her voice felt sincere and insightful. She knew there was something wrong with her, describing her odd thoughts vividly. But when looking in retrospect, she also doubts whether she really needed to be hospitalized. Had she been a teenager in the 2020s, would she have been placed in the hospital? Or would therapy have worked better in her case?

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Review: The Great Alone

  • Title: The Great Alone
  • Author: Kristin Hannah
  • Genre: Historical fiction
  • Year: 2018
  • Synopsis: Ernt Allbright comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska. Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, hopes that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture.

The Great Alone is an impactful story that explores the family dynamics of a dysfunctional and toxic home environment while maintaining small glimpses and moments of hope.

Leni is the protagonist, and we witness her life experiences at different stages, making this a well-rounded coming-of-age story, starting from when she’s 13 up until she’s 24. It was easy to connect with Leni. She’s a quiet girl who loves to read. I enjoyed how her taste in books also transformed over time. The story ends with an article written by her where she reflects on her past, so we can conclude that she’s somewhere around middle age by then.

The detailed descriptions of the scenery will make you fall in love and be in awe of Alaska and its landscapes. It makes you wonder how can a place so beautiful be at the same so cruel.

I found the mother-daughter bond between Leni and Cora heartwarming and admirable. As readers, we can find hundreds of reasons to criticize Cora and call her a bad mother. Of course Cora made awful mistakes by allowing her daughter to live in an environment of domestic violence, but as many domestic violence victims, she believed her husband would change. She refused to see the red flags and was under the gaslighting spell of Ernt. A relationship built out of fear instead of true love. And Leni instead of rebelling against everyone like any ordinary teenager, stays at her mother’s side regardless, being aware that her mother needed help.

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