How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water by Angie Cruz review

There is a Spanish word to express feelings, desahogar, which, when translated, literally means “un-drown”. Pour out his heart. Cry until there’s no need to cry anymore.

In Angie Cruz’s fourth novel, “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water,” an interviewer for a New York City employment assistance program asks protagonist Cara Romero to say something about herself. What follows looks like, at first, a drowning.

Cara’s story begins with her moving to the United States as a young mother from the Dominican Republic “because my husband wanted to kill me”. What later emerges is that her husband hadn’t touched Cara in two years, turning to other women instead, but when Cara gives in to another man’s tenderness, her husband threatens to “kill me to end the humiliation he felt”.

The story, told in Cara’s unerringly candid, sometimes hilarious voice, develops rapidly like the bellows of an accordion to release chords of friendship, community and, at times, lust, amid financial constraints, of the discrimination and personal divisions faced by Cara, her family and friends in their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Washington Heights.

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The structure of the novel is built around 12 interview sessions designed to assess Cara’s employment readiness and her eligibility for continued unemployment benefits. She fills each meeting with stories about her life’s challenges, including her arrival in New York 26 years early, her struggle to provide for her son and siblings, and the sudden loss of her steady job in a factory abroad.

Cara punctuates her anecdotes with lucid observations about the contradictions and injustices in the country where she spent most of her adult life, even as she studies to become an American citizen.

“It won’t be easy to say I’m American, because when someone says American, they don’t imagine me,” Cara told the government contractor.

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Cara, interviewed amid the global economic downturn in 2009, sees through her landlord’s schemes to drive longtime tenants out of their Washington Heights apartment building in favor of better-paying newcomers. Despite her own unemployment, she feels deeply for the lawyer with children who, according to a news report, is taking a job at a fast food restaurant because he can’t find work in his own field. Cara says, “Now I see this country is like that quick-handed fisherman on the beach showing you the big fat fish, but when he’s cooking he says he’s shrinking.”

Cara’s deepest disappointments and fervent hopes relate to her confusing relationships with her son, Fernando, who makes a conscious decision to disappear from her life, and her “insensitive” sister Ángela, who Cara says is so drawn to upward mobility that she does. doesn’t appreciate the sacrifices Cara has made for her. But Cara isn’t perfect, and as the story unfolds, her own stories reveal some of the hows and whys behind the personal divisions that trouble her so much.

Through Cara’s memorable voice, images of other characters emerge, including the interviewer, a young Dominican American who speaks little Spanish and who must somehow compile a list of Cara’s job skills from the stories. twisties of Cara. Stories of how Cara cooks and cleans for the Vieja Caridad, an elderly neighbor, after the woman’s partner dies. About the way she keeps her nephews and nieces, despite criticism of her methods. About how she keeps tabs on the comings and goings of her apartment building with her envious but loyal friend Lulú, both of them tuning a TV to the lobby security camera. From Alicia the clairvoyant, who might be an online scammer, or maybe not.

Cruz won critical acclaim with her previous novel “Dominicana”, a Women’s Prize for Fiction finalist and a coming-of-age story centered on a married Dominican teenager who immigrates to New York. With “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water,” Cruz once again offers new insight into immigration, femininity, aspiration, and gentrification, but the first-person look at the protagonist here takes on a more confessional stream of consciousness. Your.

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“How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” is an engaging read, inviting the reader to look at the world as 56-year-old Cara does, with a mixture of harsh assessment, startling naivety and, ultimately, a deep current of tenderness. The book also resonates with the feeling that Cara loves and believes in herself, despite everything she’s been through. In one of the story’s lightest moments, referring to her looks, Cara says, “I know I was born with sugar in my pockets.” When asked in an employment questionnaire if she can drive, she does not say no. Instead, she says: No problem, she can learn.

It might seem superficial to call this a feel-good story and yet Cara is a character to love. This is as much a story about Cara’s inner life and the human relationships she weaves as it is about her disenfranchisement as an immigrant woman with limited financial and educational resources. “How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water” provides insight into the enduring value of relationships, life experiences, and determination as currencies in a tough world.

Charmaine Wilkerson is the author of “Black Cake”.

How not to drown in a glass of water

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