Art & Culture
Five of the best books about the Dominican Republic
Bookshop in Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo
Photo: Mikkel Ulriksen
Cosy up with these five books that explore the fascinating history and culture of the Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic has a long and fascinating history with many secrets, revelations and stories to be told. Whether you want to get a handle on the country before you go, or looking for a good read to sink into while you’re soaking up the atmosphere, you’ll love these great English-language books from the DR’s top authors.
Here are the top five books to read before visiting the Dominican Republic:
01. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
Set during the Trujillo dictatorship of the 1960s, In the Time of the Butterflies tells the story of three sisters - the Mirabals - who are executed after visiting their husbands in jail. Inspired by true events, the Butterflies follows the Mirabal sisters’ secret plot to overthrow the Trujillo dictatorship. The novel blends fact and fiction to tell a thrilling story of courage and sisterhood during a dark time in the history of the Dominican Republic.
Alvarez does a fantastic job of bringing the sisters to life and will have you on the edge of your seat. In the Time of the Butterflies is a captivating novel that will entertain and thrill from start to finish.
"A gorgeous and sensitive novel . . . A compelling story of courage, patriotism and familial devotion." —People
02. Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa
Slightly dark but very exciting, Feast of the Goat narrates the story of the infamous dictator of the 1960s, Trujillo. He ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 all the way up until 1961 when he was assassinated. Llosa thoroughly details the accounts of Trujillo’s life and death.
The novel intertwines three separate stories, centering on a tension-filled narrative leading up to the betrayel, attempted overthrow and ultimate assassination of Trujillo by a former loyalist.
This is a powerful fictionalized novel about power, money, sex and violence that should be read by anyone with an interest in the history of the Dominican Republic.
“A fierce, edgy and enthralling book...Mr. Vargas Llosa has pushed the boundaries of the traditional historical novel, and in doing so has written a book of harrowing power and lasting resonance.” ―The New York Times
03. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
This award-winning book (Pulitzer and National Book Awards) tells the beautiful story of Oscar Wao, a lovable geek and American-Dominican. This book is slightly off-beat with many jokes, gags and references that anyone who’s lived in the DR will appreciate. If you haven’t been yet and miss some of the many references, don’t worry! This book is still a joy to read.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao follows Wao’s nerdy life growing up in New Jersey during the 80s, interspersed with stories told by Oscar’s parents about their experiences living under the Trujillo dictatorship. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a must-read that powerfully captures growing up in two worlds. Funny and heartfelt, you won’t know whether to laugh or cry.
"An extraordinarily vibrant book that's fueled by adrenaline-powered prose. . . A book that decisively establishes [Díaz] as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices." —The New York Times
04. Caribbean: A Novel by James A. Michener
This classic novel from Michener transports readers to the Caribbean, bringing the history of this small chain of islands vividly to life. Michener’s novel charts the journeys of many of the famous explorers that once sailed these seas and conquered these islands - including the Columbuses, Henry Morgan and even Cuba’s own Fidel Castro. For those interested in learning more about the history of the Dominican Republic in the wider context of Caribbean colonisation, this book is your best bet.
"A grand epic . . . [Michener] sympathizes with the struggles of the region's most oppressed, and succeeds in presenting the Caribbean in its rich diversity."-The Plain Dealer
05. This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
This is a book about love, heartbreak and one young man’s journey of learning all there is to know about relationships. This unconventional love story from Junot Diaz is fast-paced, exciting, funny and endearing. Through his young protagonist, Yunior, Diaz eloquently explores ideas about love that will resonate with us all.
So good that we felt it was worth giving Diaz a second appearance in this list, this book also balances out the historical narratives on the list with more personal insights into the hearts of Dominican women and men. This fantastic novel lays bare the weakness of the human heart, and serves as a stark reminder that passion trumps experience.
“Exhibits the potent blend of literary eloquence and street cred that earned him a Pulitzer Prize… Díaz’s prose is vulgar, brave, and poetic.” –O Magazine
Written by Andrew Miles.
Published August 2020
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