Dreaming in Cuban, Cristina Garcia, Random House, 1992, 245 pp
From the French Revolution in The Glass-Blowers I went directly to the Cuban Revolution. In light of recent developments in the United States relations with Cuba, the Tiny Book Club decided to read a novel set in Cuba and written by a Cuban. Cristina Garcia was born in Havana on July 4, 1958, just about six months before Fidel Castro's revolution ousted dictator Batista. So even though her family fled Cuba when she was only two years old, we thought her first novel would fit the bill.
It is a wonderful novel and like The Glass-Blowers, deals with the impact and consequences of revolution on a family. For various reasons I have lately been thinking about the consequences of divorce on families with children. There are numerous parallels between the two. The bottom line is upheaval accompanied by the necessity to take sides, the emotional turmoil, the economic disruption, and the fact that nothing will be the same as it was before.
The viewpoint in this novel is decidedly female and each female is her own unique person. My favorite character was Celia, the grandmother, who remained in Cuba and was a supporter of Castro and his hopes for the country. She is a complex character who harbored a life long love for her first boyfriend, who had a difficult relationship with her husband, who went crazy at the birth of her first daughter and was sent to an asylum by that husband where she was given shock treatments. Good God!
That first daughter, Lourdes, moved to New York after her marriage. She purely hates Castro and is a complete piece of work with not one gentle emotion in her makeup, but I liked her too. A second daughter remained in Cuba and is a wild woman who dabbles in a Cuban mystical religion originated by slaves and succumbs to it in the end.
Then there is Pilar, daughter of Lourdes and an example of a 1970s daughter of immigrants in New York's art scene. She is Celia's favorite granddaughter and they long for each other. She was my second favorite character.
Basically every character is fractured in some way, even the men, and if you are looking for exemplary mothers you won't find a one. But you will find fierce mothers and strong emotions and wild behaviors. The lushness of Cuba, the magical realism that is just part of the country, and the search for identity in an essentially broken society are all brought to full and vivid life.
Though one of the Tinies had some trouble with the way the story jumps about in time, we all felt we got what we were looking for. I had no idea Cristina Garcia has written so many books. I read The Aguero Sisters about 20 years ago but now I want to read them all.
(Dreaming in Cuban is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)