“My name is Cara Romero, and I came to this country because my husband wanted to kill me. Don’t look so shocked. You’re the one who asked me to say something about myself.”
This first paragraph sets the tone for the whole of Angie Cruz’s latest novel. It swallows you into a prose that is as energetic and alive as Cara, a 55-year-old Dominican living in New York during the Great Recession. Over the course of 12 sessions, she tells a government worker about her life and skills in the hope of getting a new job and qualifying for more benefits. Cara was laid off from the factory she had worked for over 20 years after it relocated to Central America and now spends her days in Washington Heights taking care of her family and her neighbours.
The book is mostly a monologue and entirely in Cara’s voice, interspersed with official documents related to her job application, her medical fees and her rent. This is not necessarily an easy feat for a writer or an easy sell for a reader. But it works. Cara’s voice is consistent throughout. By the end of the book, we have a real sense of who she is, in all her complexities, her contradictions and her idiosyncrasies. Her flaws are visible but not excused, and still her light shines through, so that I could not help but feel empathy for her.
This book is about immigration and gives a human face to the economic crisis. It is about generational trauma and how hard it can be talk to and be understood by your family. It gives a voice to a working-class woman of colour over 50, a character I have not often seen represented. It is also a moving homage to the extensive unpaid labour performed by carers, elders, and relatives, mostly women, to keep communities together. A unique read!