When the de la Cruz Family Danced
This novel about a Filipino American family in Southern California was published by Signal 8 Press in 2011.
During his one and only return visit to the Philippines, Johnny de la Cruz, plagued by a sense of isolation, feels a glimmer of connection to the place of his birth and youth when he sees Bunny Bulong, the hometown Miss Sampaguita of 1946. Johnny succumbs to a quick sexual encounter with the ever attractive and beguiling Bunny. Years later, sick with cancer and faced with the possibility of dying, he regrets that he never had a son—a lack that has distanced him from his daughters and sometimes his wife. Miles away, nineteen-year-old Winston Piña has barely finished eulogizing his recently deceased mother Bunny, when he finds a letter she wrote, but never sent to Johnny de la Cruz, leading him into the lives of the de la Cruz family — a family to which he might or might not belong. The novel explores the ties within family and how circumstances of birth, immigration, and assimilation tug at those ties.
This extraordinary novel illustrates a family’s long journey toward making peace—with the world, with the family, and with individual selves. Miscolta is a pitch-perfect prose stylist and a passionately empathetic creator: she savors sentence-making and attends to the all-important nuanced moments between people. This chronicle of a family is beautifully observed and heart-rendingly told, and these characters will linger long after you’ve closed the book. I feel blessed to have met this family and to have made the journey with them.
– Antonya Nelson, author of Bound
When the de la Cruz Family Danced is my kind of book—characters I fell in love with, prose that made me swoon, dialogue that rang true. Donna Miscolta did something wonderful here: she created a world that I didn’t want to leave.
— Noel Alumit, author of Talking to the Moon and Letters to Montgomery Clift
In her deft debut novel, Donna Miscolta presents a clarifying vision of post-immigration America. Longings acted upon or stifled, secrets disclosed or withheld, connections made or frayed—Miscolta shows that the extended de la Cruz family is a mirror of the things that bind us and keep us apart. When the de la Cruz Family Danced may be one particular family’s aching story, but the novel also has a largeness that encompasses the evolving formal history of the novel, the history of family life in America, and the continuing story of how immigrants carry the burdens of the past into the strange present. Miscolta’s novel is intricate, tender, and elegantly written—a necessary novel for our times.
— Rick Barot, author of Want
When the de la Cruz Family Danced introduces a wise, warm, funny and big-hearted writer to the world. This book is a delight.
— Rebecca Brown, author of American Romances
A smoothly written debut that sways between the Philippines and the U.S., between the present and past, and between the secrets and hard truths of its compelling characters. This is a complex story of immigration and loss that packs an emotional punch.
— Cristina Garcia, author of The Lady Matador’s Hotel
When reading When the de la Cruz Family Danced, you feel like the story is already familiar—not that it’s been told before, but that its words have the flow of memory, of having been there standing in the de la Cruz kitchen or sitting at the dinner table where there is the nostalgic talk of family meals, of family tragedies, of the heartfelt things left unsaid that are later recalled or written down in letter sent through the mail or watched in a home movie. We, as readers, aren’t a part of this life or this history and yet by reading, we see ourselves just standing at the edge of the frame in a de la Cruz family portrait. We’re family.
— Shawn Wong, author of American Knees
“Like Clarrisa Dalloway’s day, this novel is not about action, but about the measured, interior, often muddy unfolding of daily life, where everything that matters happens. The paternity plot sets things in motion, and Winston’s presence challenges old habits and evasions, and offers the de la Cruzes a new lens through which to look at themselves and each other. But the novel turns on Miscolta’s careful attention to Johnny and Tessie de la Cruz, and their yearnings.” — Kathryn Hunt, from Raven Chronicles review
“Donna Miscolta has written an amazing novel. It is rich with feeling and thought. I absolutely fell in love with Johnny. Although he was not an easy character to get to know, the process of getting to know him felt real and never like a chore. More like the process we all go through in getting to know a new friend. In fact, all of the characters were very real and acted true to their personalities throughout the story. This was one of those novels I ended up so totally immersed in, that when I had to put the book down, it would take me a minute to reorient myself to reality. I love it when that happens! I laughed out loud, I cried, I fell in love with this family and their friends. Truly a masterpiece.”
— Dana, see the complete Let’s Book It review
“When the De La Cruz Family Danced is a breathtaking portrayal of longing and loss as one family learns acceptance with each other and with the past. In thoughtful prose, debut novelist Donna Miscolta interlocks the smallest and most delicate stories and phrases with the upmost affection; she is attentive to dialogue as if composing a waltz, “I came to take you dancing, Tessie.” A seductive rhythm pulling the reader onto every page.” — Josie E. Davis, see the complete PLOP! review
“Very good novels operate in a sphere beyond the characters, embedding their story within a time, a place, a culture, and Miscolta honors this tradition. She explores a particular immigrant experience, and the estrangement and rootlessness it can cause. Through this experience, she also comments on the isolation and unfulfilled promise of planned suburban communities in contrast to their messier, evolving urban counterparts. Throughout, there is a suggestion that, in our urge to find something better, we abandon the very things that could make us the most happy, despite our dissatisfaction with them. Miscolta has written a beautifully composed novel of a family in disarray, finally trying to dance its halting way back together.” —Melissa Bashor, see the complete Prime Magazine review
“Though this type of narrative turn can prove unwieldy, Miscolta’s delicate prose and mindful style inject a controlled direction that sheds light on each of the characters’ peculiarities. They do not simply become foils for or adjuncts to the protagonist. I can only think of them as capillaries—interconnected, each providing others life, yet at the same time needing to flow somewhere else, to be connect to someone else.” —Dinah Roma Sianturi, see the complete Cha: An Asian Literary Journal review
Read about the inspiration behind When the de la Cruz Family Danced and other influences in my writing in these interviews: King County Employee News (October 2014), Intermittent Visitors (October 2012), La Coquette Levantine (June 2012), Seattle Wrote (May 2012), ph.d. in creative writing (March 2012), Turning East (January 2012), Fil-Am Fest (September 2011), Freelance and Fiction (July 2011), and First Line (July 2011).
I was interviewed by Janelle So on Kababayan LA, Southern California’s only daily Filipino television show.
Audio Excerpts from The Novel