Cristina García’s acclaimed book is the haunting, bittersweet story of a family experiencing a country’s revolution and the revelations that follow. The lives of Celia del Pino and her husband, daughters, and grandchildren mirror the magical realism of Cuba itself, a landscape of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption. Dreaming in Cuban is “a work that possesses both the intimacy of a Chekov story and the hallucinatory magic of a novel by Gabriel García Márquez” (The New York Times). In celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the novel’s original publication, this edition features a new introduction by the author.
Praise for Dreaming in Cuban
“Remarkable . . . an intricate weaving of dramatic events with the supernatural and the cosmic . . . evocative and lush.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Captures the pain, the distance, the frustrations and the dreams of these family dramas with a vivid, poetic prose.”—The Washington Post
“Brilliant . . . With tremendous skill, passion and humor, García just may have written the definitive story of Cuban exiles and some of those they left behind.”—The Denver Post
About the Author
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Excerpted from "Dreaming in Cuban"
Copyright © 1993 Cristina García.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the nature of Celia’s devotion to the revolution? Why is she such a true believer in it?
2. Why does Celia continue to write Gustavo? What does he represent to her? What purposes do her letters serve in the novel?
3. Why does Jorge come back to visit Celia? Why did he lie about Celia to Lourdes, and why is it important for him to tell her what he ’s done?
4. Though the events of modern-day Cuba are woven throughout the novel, García never refers to Fidel Castro by name, only as El Lider. Why does she do this and what does this bring to the novel?
5. Why does Lourdes defend her daughter after Pilar unveils the punk Statue of Liberty painting?
6. This novel is told from several different perspectives over three generations. What does this technique lend to the novel?
7. The themes of magic and faith are predominant throughout the novel. How do the novel’s characters view magic and faith, and how do they use these qualities in their daily lives?
8. All of the characters seem to be searching to fulfill unnamed desires. Can you identify what each of them want? Does regret play any part in their actions?
9. García writes, “The family is hostile to the individual.” Discuss how this applies to the novel’s characters.
10. How are the many intersections of race and class depicted in the novel?
11. By the novel’s end, all of Celia’s children are lost to her, either by death or estrangement. This is echoed by the troubled relationship between Pilar and Lourdes, the twins’ relationship with Felicia, and the final spiriting away of Ivanito.
What is García trying to show here, and why?
12. The final portion of the book, in which Lourdes and Pilar travel to Cuba, is titled “The Languages Lost.” What do you think this means? How do you interpret the other passage headings?
13. What is Pilar searching for in her relationship with her grandmother? Does she find it?
14. What is Celia’s legacy to Pilar?
15. Why does Pilar lie to Celia at the end? How is the theme of betrayal handled throughout the novel?
16. What is it that drives Celia into the sea at the end? Is it Ivanito’s disappearance or
Pilar’s lying to her or something else?
17. What does the title of the book signify? Who is “dreaming,” so to speak? Do you think García is referring to a specific character or is it a collective dreaming?
A Conversation with Cristina García
Scott Shibuya Brown is a writer and professor at California State University, Northridge.
Scott Brown: What prompted you to write Dreaming in Cuban?
Cristina García: It was a confluence of three things: I returned to Cuba for the first time since leaving at the age of two and a half, I did a stint as a journalist in Miami, and lastly and probably most important, I started to read poetry in
earnest. The sense of not fitting in either in Havana, or in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community, made me start questioning my own identity. Where did I belong? What did it mean to be Cuban? And the poetry made me feverish to write.
SB: When you started to write this, did you have a larger idea of the story you wanted to tell or were you at that time painting on a more miniaturist canvas?
CG: Dreaming in Cuban actually started out as a poem andslowly grew. After about a hundred pages, I realized that what I was working on was a novel. Nobody was more surprised than I. I felt as if I had backed my way into this. If I had known this from the beginning, I might have been too intimidated
to take it on.
SB: When you realized you were in the middle of a novel, did your intentions toward the work change?
CG: I realized I wanted to create very specific characters and chronicle their obsessions, while at the same time exploring the trickle-down effects of the Cuban revolution on their lives and relationships. I also wanted to focus primarily on women. So much of history is written by and about men. I hoped to explore the more personalrepercussions of a big political event.
SB: Politics and political allegiances figure in nearly every part of the book, yet none of the characters really exhibits any discriminating political awareness. Ironically, the most sagacious comment comes from Felicia, who says at one
point, "We 're dying of security." Is this the nature of the political debate as carried on by Cubans who stayed in Cuba and the exile community?
CG: The public nature of the debate is very black and white, very polarized, very unintegrated. But really, they're the flip side of each other. The extreme cores of both sides have more similarities than differences in terms of their intransigence
and self-righteousness. Personally, I'm more interested in the gap and shades of gray between these two extremes. That's what I was trying to explore. There are many ways to be Cuban and I resist the notion that to be Cuban is to hold
particular political views or act in certain circumscribed ways.
SB: Which character do you feel the most affection for and why?
CG: Definitely Celia. For me, she was the guiding spirit of the book, and though I don't agree with everything she says and does, she seems to always act with a sense of passion and honesty. When I finally met my own maternal grandmother
in Cuba in 1984, I was flooded with a sense of loss for everything that we hadn't experienced together. I wanted to capture something of that lost connection in the relationship between Celia and her granddaughter, Pilar.
SB: Now let me ask you the character with whom you most identify.
CG: I think of Pilar as kind of an alter ego for me. I grew up with a very bifurcated sense of myself. At home, things were intensely Cuban. In the rest of my life, it had very little meaning. I probably thought of myself, first and foremost, as
a New Yorker—an urban kid with an affinity for many cultures yet beholden to none. It wasn't until I started to write fiction that my private Cuban self merged with my public self. Now I feel that I live more on the hyphen than on either side
SB: Lourdes is an intriguing character. Much of what shedoes and says is quite disagreeable, yet in some ways she 's also sympathetic. What saves her?
CG: What saves her is her unerring instinct to protect what is hers, especially her daughter Pilar, with whom she disagrees on just about everything. When she defends her daughter's punk portrait of the Statue of Liberty, that is the essential
Lourdes. She 's tribal and territorial, forthright and aggressive. The woman sleeps well at night and she 's also unintentionally funny. It's hard to hate her for very long. I found myself loving her grudgingly.
SB: Speaking of characters, in rereading this, I was struck by Celia's character. Obviously, she is portrayed much more sympathetically than Lourdes, yet in her own way she's just as intransigent and inflexible. Would you agree with this interpretation?
CG: Yes. They're each in their own way die-hard believers, which is why they ultimately can't get along. I think there 's very little room for orthodoxy, political or otherwise, between two people who love each other. When politics trumps the personal, bitter schisms are the result. Celia is personally less irritating than Lourdes but deep down, they're two peas in a pod.
SB: How do Celia's letters serve the character, and as a novelist, what did this technique provide you?
CG: Celia had a poetic streak that needed an outlet and I felt the epistolary form would provide a greater insight into her nature and sensibility, while also providing textural variety to the narrative. Basically, I wanted her to have her own voice. I wanted her to speak directly to the readers through the guise of this haunted love affair. The letters provide a window into her inner life and yearnings.
SB: It's striking that all of the characters have deeply troubled relationships with their husbands, wives, and lovers. In fact, the only relationship that seems to bespeak any romantic love is Celia and Gustavo's illusory one. Why is that?
CG: Because in almost all ways, I think, love is harder than politics. In Celia's case, it was an idealized love, one that didn't have to be tested by time and the quotidian. It was easier to keep it alive than anything more reality based.
SB: Similarly, most of the parent/child relationships either are strained or strange. I'm thinking not only of Celia and Lourdes, Jorge and Javier, and Lourdes and Pilar but also of Felicia and Ivanito, and Felicia and her twin daughters. Canyou talk about that?
CG: I wanted to highlight not only generational differences between my characters but also the differences that were compounded by contrasting perspectives on the Cuban revolution. The generation gap was not only familial, but political, and it made ordinary rites of rebellion more complex and fraught with tension. Plus, let's face it, there was a tremendous amount of dysfunction here, even without the help of the revolution.
SB: Was it hard to write Pilar's betrayal of Celia at the end? Were you aware of having to consciously make the choice to have her behave this way or did it emerge naturally from the character?
CG: It seemed to me inevitable in that classic Aristotelian way. It was both surprising and inevitable. When it happened, I was personally disappointed in Pilar but I knew she couldn't sacrifice her cousin. He didn't belong in Cuba any more than Pilar's mother did. It would have been criminal to force him to stay. Pilar understood intuitively that this was how it had to be.
SB: And the ending with Celia in the ocean, how did that come about?
CG: It came full circle with the opening when she sits by the ocean and goes for a swim. When I started the book I didn't know why Celia was wearing the drop-pearl earrings. When I got to the end, it seemed a fulfillment of that opening scene. It begins and ends with the sea, with the lure of the sea and all its promises.
SB: I've always felt that the ending derives its power from its ambiguity. Do you see Celia's fate as ambiguous?
CG: I deliberately wanted it to be ambiguous. I've been asked whether Celia commits suicide, or if she swims back to Cuba or even if she might get picked up by the Coast Guard. My answer is always: I really don't know. In any case, I feel that she's come to some kind of personal reckoning when she releases
her drop-pearl earrings to the sea.
SB: Can you talk about the novel's lyricism?
CG: I often thought of the book in musical terms. For me, I fueled this by reading a lot of poetry and paying attention to the musicality of each sentence. I also wanted to capture in English something of the rhythm and syncopation of the Spanish language. I wanted the book to feel as though the reader were experiencing it in Spanish.
SB: Who were some of the poets who inspired you?
CG: At the time, I was reading a lot of Wallace Stevens, Federico García Lorca, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and William Carlos Williams. I was enthralled by the magic and the imagery, the economy and the astonishing luminosity of their
work. I also was reading a great deal of Chekhov, Borges, and García Marquez. In fact, I return again and again to Chekhov for the great humanity and distillation of his short stories.
SB: Speaking of García Marquez, can you discuss some of the novel's magical realism?
CG: I first encountered magical realism reading Kafka's Metamorphosis. I think it exists in many traditions in literature. The South American variety, however, particularly resonated with me and gave me a tremendous sense of possibility.
What I liked to explore is the borderland between what is only remotely possible and what is utterly impossible.
SB: There's a lot of tragedy in the book yet it's not tragic. Why?
CG: This could have been a grim book without the saving grace of humor. In Cuba or Miami, who could survive without the ability to laugh at their plight now and then? TheCuban propensity for exaggeration contributes to this. If every exile who claimed to have a deed to his ranch on the island actually produced it, the joke goes, Cuba would be the size of Brazil.
SB: You write a lot about santería. Why is that?
CG: Santería was traditionally an unacknowledged and underappreciated
aspect of what it meant to be Cuban. Yet the syncretism between the Yoruban religion that the slaves brought to the island and the Catholicism of their masters is, in my opinion, the underpinning of Cuban culture. Every artistic realm—music, theater, literature, etc.—owes a huge debt to santería and the slaves who practiced it and passed it on, largely secretively, for generations.
SB: Did you consider yourself an exile?
CG: I feel like I grew up in the wake of my parents' exile rather than enduring the loss directly. But while I don't consider myself an exile, I've had the privilege of experiencing two cultures at very close range, participating in both and belonging to neither entirely. Compounding this is the sense of voluntary exile
I have as a writer, of stepping outside the stream of everyday
life to try and make sense of it. This is the greatest luxury of this peculiar exile.
SB: What role does memory play in the novel?
CG: Memory is more a point of departure than a repository of facts. It's a product of both necessity and imagination, of my characters' needs to reinvent themselves and invest themselves in narratives of their own devising. Each of them needs to be a heroine, to believe she is doing the right thing, choosing
the only path to a kind of personal redemption. They need their memories in this sense to survive.
SB: It's been more than a decade since Dreaming in Cuban was published. How do you regard it now?
CG: With a bittersweet nostalgia. I gave birth to the book— my first novel—and my daughter in the same year and they both changed my life irrevocably for the better.
SB: Lastly, whose story do you see Dreaming in Cuban as
CG: Personally, I see Celia and Pilar as foreground characters and Felicia and Lourdes as more background characters. But each in her own way is telling an essential part of the story. None can exist without the others.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I noticed most reviews are from possibly Cuban American readers or students of Latin American literature classes. I found this book after my first cruise which was to the Caribbean. I decided to read translations of Caribbean authors. This is a wonderful book. I agree particularly with the reviewer who mentions how fantasy is a coping mechanism for these characters. This book is bizarre because so much of the time it is the constantly ticking internal dialogues of people. This book increased immensely my understanding of the Cuban American plight and opened up the closed world of those left behind.
I read this book for the first time at the age of 15. Since, I have read it over and over again....this recount of generations of immigrant women is not what you expect. The story turns into a magical and at times erotic recount of 3 generations of women. It is enchanting and mysterious and at times causes one to ignore what we know to be true about reality...
With Castro so much in the news lately, it's no wonder this book has taken off--again! And don't think for a minute that it's just a 'chick' book---it's not. It's funny, warm, intelligent, and a great way to spend some time with a writer from whom I hope we'll hear more.
i loved this book so much it tells about women and what they go through it's like a book recommended for all the women on earth
I bought this book with out knowing anything about it, and by the time I finished it, I was captivated by the author's writing skill! This is the type of book you just can't put down! I have told all of my friends about it, and I have re-read it about four times. This book was great from start to finish, the characters were totally believable. I felt as if the author could have been spying on my family when she wrote this. I can't give this book enough praise, just go out and read it already!
Interesting Story, but a cumbersome read. I found Dreaming in Cuban to be a cumbersome effort to read. Almost from the start I was beginning to lose track of the characters and I was beginning to think that I would need a score card to keep track of who was who. In this novel the author did create interesting scenes that centers around the Cuban family, and culture but there were so many loose ends when I finished reading the book that the overall story just didn't connect with me. It's not a terrible read, maybe just an entertaining story.
Dreaming in Cuban ¿ what a colorful book, it is saturated with color ¿ sunlight ¿ life ¿ it is a dream. I started reading this during the week my mother passed away, read it during the wee hours I spent at her bedside during that long vigil in the Comfort Room ¿ this beautiful book carried me through the toughest two weeks of my life and I was sad to come to its end, but I¿m happy to know that I can read it again at any time, even if I pick it up and open to a random page and read it for a few minutes, this is a book that is easy to become immersed into and fall in love with all over again. As with many beloved books on my bookshelves, there are several dog-eared pages to revisit ¿ the language is supple and written so lovingly ¿ it has a sorrow that can break your heart and make it sing with joy at the same time. A classic beauty.
Told from a half a dozen different viewpoints, shifting in time, this books is a challenge to read. The language is beautiful and sensual, the characters dysfunctional to a point often nearing insanity and the situations often improbable at best. For the first half of the book, I was enchanted, but my enjoyment of Garcia's language play palled and, for the second half, I was simply slogging through the pages, hoping to be done soon. This is one of those books that will be greatly loved by some readers. Sadly, I'm just not one of those.
Dreaming in Cuban is beautifully written and skillfully delves into the lives of several family members who hold opposing ideas about the Cuban revolution. It focuses on four major characters: Celia del Pino, her daughter Felicia who still lives in Cuba, her daughter Lourdes who has emigrated to New York City, and Lourdes' own daughter, Pilar. The multigenerational aspect is one of the most touching things about it, in my opinion.The problem for me was that the story didn't seem complete--I feel like we just barely skimmed the surface with these characters, sometimes going a little (or a lot) deeper, but only for a moment. The book is roughly 250 pages long, but for me, it wasn't enough to cover the story of four women from the 1930s to the 1980s, plus a handful of other relatives that get their own POV sections along the way. As it is, we get a lot of the characters' present-day emotions, but I would have loved to see more scenes actually played out rather than alluded to. There are gaps in the story between the years and the POV shifts, and I personally would have liked to see more of them filled in.The other thing that I found a little frustrating with this book is that some of the metaphors and references the characters make didn't seem to make sense, even after I stopped to think about them and figure it out. There are some parts where characters suddenly realize something about the moon, etc., and how it relates to their present situation, but the reason for this is not clear at all to me. Sometimes this happens in fiction and I just go with it, but in this book, for some reason, it served to jolt me out of the narrative and ended up interrupting the flow.With that said, there are many scenes that are very powerful and haunting, particularly in Celia's story. Cristina Garcia lets certain parts of the characters' pasts emerge slowly and reveals them at precisely the right time, which I love in a book.
I enjoyed this book, though it wasn't quite as wonderful as I believe it could have been. The beginning was a bit disjointed and the timeline was sometimes hard to follow, and the end left me feeling...strange. It's a good little novel though, and I'd recommend it for a light summer read.
A novel about some characters who were Cuban or Cuban emigres that is not bad in any identifiable ways, but just didn't grab my interest, so I gave up on it.
It was kind of stressful reading this book. No one is happy with anyone for a long time and there are a lot of scary memories. But it was a good window into what it might be like to live in Cuba.
It¿s a story of four women from a Cuban family divided by the revolution and political views. Two of the women- mother and daughter- live in New York City, and the grandmother and the other daughter in Cuba. Through their eyes, we see a whole spectrum of views and beliefs from staunch capitalism to equally firm communism, from atheism to Santeria. The plot revolves around the grandmother in Cuba and her teenage granddaughter in New York City, longing to see each other. As in a typical Latin American novel, there is a lot of magical realism and quite a bit of passion. The book has some great moments and presents a nice cut through the Cuban emigrant milieu as well as the remaining Cuban society, and provides what I think is a balanced view.
Great book! Fast read . Garcia captures you in the world of Cuba so poetically . This is a must read.
Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia This is a novel that tells the story of three generations of Cubans. Celia Almeida the matriarch who fell in love with a married Spanish lawyer (Gustavo Sierra de Armas) but had to settle for Jorge del Pino. Because of this, Jorge punishes her by leaving her alone while on business as a traveling salesman and distancing her children from her. Celia and Jorge have three children: Lourdes marries a rich man from the Cuba's high society, Rufino Puente and chooses to leave Cuba for Brooklyn where she opens the Yankee Doodle Bakery in Brooklyn, and thrives on American life, quickly embracing cold weather, capitalism, and prejudice. Her husband feels impotent because he was a rancher and liked to work outdoor Lourdes keeps a strong tie to her father - who died in Brooklyn from stomach cancer - and is frequented by his spirit. Jorge del Pino spirit assesses Lourdes on all the important decisions she makes. Felicia marries the good for nothing Hugo Villaverde, who gives her syphilis with her second pregnancy and is kicked out by Jorge del Pino from the family. Felicia decides to stay in Cuba and has an affinity for santeria. She killed the last of her three husbands and tried to burn the first one alive. She also burnt Graciela Moreira's hair because she though she was responsible for the death of her second husband: Ernesto Brito. Javier escapes to Czechoslovakia where he becomes a professor at the Prague University. He marries Irina Novotny with whom he fathers a girl, Irinita. Irina leaves him for another intellectual so he returns to Cuba in defeat. The third generation of protagonists are made up of their children: Pilar Puente - the most important of these, is Lourdes and Rufino's daughter. She's a rebel with a cause. While her mother is a right wing Cuban exile who hates anything that has to do with Castro, Pilar has a strong connection with her grandmother Celia. Celia speaks to her for most of her early life. Pilar is an artist, a free spirit and longs to go back and stay in Cuba. She remembers being torn away from her grandmother's arms when Lourdes decided to leave for the US. Feels she belongs there. Luz and Milagro Villaverde - Felicia's daughters - hate her mother. They side with their father and try in vain to rescue their brother Ivanito from her crazy mother who ends up trying to burn him alive. Ivanito is very close to her mother and even though he excels in Russian, he's trying to learn English. He goes to his grandmother's house in Santa Teresa del Mar to try to listen to American radio. He's painted like a mama's boy and the writer is ambiguous about his relationship with his Russian teacher, Sergei Mikoyan, who has to leave Cuba because of improprieties with his students. The techniques used by the writer are interesting. The book takes place from 1972 to 1980. The book is narrated from the third person point of view, but it switches to the first person point of view every time Pilar does the storytelling. Perhaps the writer was identifying with Pilar. I thought it was nice until Ivanito and Herminia Delgado - Felicia's closest friend - also narrate from the first person point of view. I did not understand this. The writer uses letters sent from Celia to Gustavo to fill in the gaps of the story. The most poetic words are in the letters. "I was born to live in an island" writes Celia to Gustavo. "I'm grateful that the tides rearrange the borders. At least I have the illusion of change, of possibility. To be locked within boundaries plotted by priests and politicians would be the only thing more intolerable." Celia complains of a loneliness "borne of the inability to share her joy." The book is an interesting study of the Cuban dynamics touching on the topics of Santeria, racism, and the Cuban revolution. The writer takes steps to present all the different points of views: Cubans in Cuba who love the revolution, Cubans in Cuba who need to be "reprogrammed" because they oppose the revolution. The poverty and decay in Cuba. It also shows the Cubans in the US - The ones who missed Cuba, like Pilar, and the ones who are radical against Castro. Lourdes has meetings on her bakery and her friends boast that they called a bomb threat to the Lincoln Center when Alicia Alonso came to perform with the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, because Ms. Alonso was a Castro supporter. I think the santeria and spiritualism is used as a way to stay in touch. Generations communicate in the afterlife - Jorge and Lourdes - and through space - Celia and Pilar. Ms. Garcia states that santeria is an unacknowledged and under appreciated aspect of what it means to be Cuban. The racism is showcased in the relationship between Herminia and Felicia. Herminia, being of African descent, is aware that Felicia is the only person who doesn't see color. She also speaks of the Little War of 1912 when many of her relatives were killed for being black. The book's ending is ambiguous. I think it's because Ms. Garcia is still trying to figure out where she belongs. The book also lacks sufficient freshness of insight to be consistently compelling. It left me with a sense that the questions asked were never answered.
The author does a stellar job with her use of descriptive words and bringing you into the story. Her beautiful writing has a musical, colorful feel....lot of blue. If you enjoy family generational literature, historical fiction, women's literature, then you must read this book.
I read this book nearly two years ago, but I still think of it from time to time. It focuses on a Cuban family that has been divided (one half has moved to America while the other remains in Cuba). The viewpoint of several different characters is shown as they take over a chapter or two. It offers an interesting philosophy and story, and I would recommend this novel to any older teen or young adult.
this book transports the reader to Cuba and all of its wonders of yesteryear. it is beautifully written. i highly recomend reading it and a book by Dede Mirabal re: las hermanas mirabal 'vivas en su jardin'
I found Dreaming in Cuban to be a cumbersome effort to read. Almost from the start I was beginning to lose track of the characters and I was beginning to think that I would need a score card to keep track of who was who. In this novel the author did create interesting scenes that centers around the Cuban family, and culture but there were so many loose ends when I finished reading the book that the overall story just didn't connect with me. It's not a terrible read, maybe just an entertaining story.
I got interested in this book because in my history class we were learnig about Fidel's Cuba. This book has showed me how people from Cuba feel about Cuba and what they do in Cuba.