Why Angie Cruz’ novel, “Soledad,” is an important read

Niomi Nunez, Features & Lifestyle Editor

In the sweaty summer of 2007, my mother chopped all her “pelo bueno” off and started wearing maxi skirts that stretched past the souls of her strappy sandals. Ashamed of her hair’s new growth, my mother started wearing black bandanas to cover her head, which 4-year-old me thought made her look like a pirate.  

I remember that summer and its licking heat, and I remember my mother wanting to be liberated, but entering her 30s with four obnoxiously loud, brave daughters. That same summer my mother became paralyzed—with what exactly, I didn’t know. All I remember is her sitting in shadowed rooms for hours on end, and my growing anger, and my sister’s pleads of why 

But upon reading “Soledad” by Angie Cruz, I recently hypothesized that perhaps my mother was paralyzed with the burdens of her Dominican upbringing and a culture that normalized the mistreatment and disregard of her and women in general. When I was younger, I didn’t understand that my mother was a person; I solely saw her as my caretaker. I didn’t think she could fall short of her responsibilities as my mother. Yet, like the characters in “Soledad,” my mother was trapped between the realms of her Dominican heritage and her dissipating youth that came with the unnatural responsibility of motherhood. For a long time, I was upset. 

The story of “Soledad” is an unfortunately familiar one for women of all backgrounds, but more specifically Dominican women. Capturing both the beauty and pain of Dominican woman/motherhood is what Cruz does best in this coming-of-age novel. Following the relationships of a Dominican family—primarily dominated by women— “Soledad” trails the lives of a depressed, bed-ridden mother; an angry, cultural-confused daughter; a spiritual, “bruja” aunt in denial; a naïve, ferocious cousin in-love; and a robustly hopeful grandmother. All of these characters seem to be female prototypes for many Dominican families and help in making this a more relatable read for those of Hispaniola heritage, including myself.  

Cruz’ novel becomes much more than a story about the frighteningly magical essence of Dominican culture and women. It becomes more about the weighted quilt that is Dominican heritage—with strings that thread generational trauma together, this blanket covers families in the dreadful memories of our oldest ancestors to our youngest cousins.  

The same quilt that wrapped around the family in “Soledad,” wrapped around my mother, my family and perhaps many other Dominican families around the world. This quilt that deters our vision of one another but swaddled us closer together. 

Reading this novel is almost essential to those—especially women— of Dominican heritage, and while I cannot force people to read it, I do strongly encourage people to. This story stretches reality to destinations of fantasy, but at its core it is a coincidentally relatable story about an ordinary family. There is much to gain from reading Angie Cruz’ “Soledad,” and much to learn about the stages of culture-packed women/motherhood.