July 22, 1996 12:00 PM

by Esmeralda Santiago

In this atmospheric first novel, Santiago, author of the acclaimed 1993. memoir When I Was Puerto Rican, has written a timely and credible tale of a battered woman’s struggle to break away from her abuser. Dream suffers from some movie-of-the-week melodramatics, but Santiago, a Westchester County, N.Y., resident who has worked with victims of domestic violence, obviously knows the sorry scene well.

Living in Puerto Rico, América Gonzales is pushing 30 and miserable. Her mother is an alcoholic; her married boyfriend Correa beats her regularly. América and Correa’s surly teenage daughter is about to run off with her lover. No wonder that when a Yanqui couple staying at the hotel where América works as a maid asks her to come back to Westchester to become their live-in nanny, she accepts. The job turns out to be difficult and demeaning, and América is lonely and homesick. Worse, she hasn’t heard the last of Correa, whose feelings of betrayal have turned him into a raging bull. (HarperCollins, $23)

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