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Dreaming in Cuban
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on April 2, 2017
Only a fool quarrels with success. For a quarter of a century this book has sold and garnered praise. I do not like this book.

Since there are elements of magical realism in the book the characters escape having to be believable. I found the teen age daughter, Pilar, an obnoxious person without any redeeming qualities. Felicia is only believable if one assumes she has a touch and go insanity due to syphilis The men in the book are all weak, selfish or immoral and sadistic .I am not Cuban and perhaps Celia is recognizable to Cubans, but to me nothing she does has any justification. I am most sympathetic to Lourdes although at times her actions are bizarre. A repeating pattern in the book is strange relationships between children and fathers or mothers. I also do not find that educated people endorse atavistic religions that have no intellectual basis.

My reaction to the book is greatly influenced by my 60 year dislike of Fidel Castro and my belief he was an evil man.. I do not find that raising literacy levels and providing some sort of universal health care justifies the mass murder of Cubans and the absence of any form of civil liberties. I also do not believe that socialism provides long term financial security. For 60 years I have been repulsed by the glorification of the Cuban revolution (I also do not support the corruption of pre Castro Cuba). This judgment on my part influences my dislike of this book. I knew several Cuban families and I found them to be educated, refined and fun loving. Lovely people to be around. The only scene in the book that rings true to me if the dancing scene of Lourdes and her nephew in a hotel.

The author believes that children of immigrants have an attachment to their parents birth country. This may be so, but it seems to me to be merely sentimental and nostalgic. Three of my four grandparents were born outside the US and neither of my parents had any such conflict. They merely had pride that they had the benefit of their parents culture and language, but no yearning for the ole sod. They had total loyalty to the United States, as did all of their parents. But being well adjusted to life, and having a positive attitude is not in vogue today and does not make a novel's plot.

The author wrote this book when she was much younger and I think you have to be very young and inexperienced in life if you are not to find this book tedious.
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on December 19, 2016
Americans love antique shops. In the mountain villages above Colorado Springs or the tiny towns of the Blue Ridge in West Virginia people – tourists all – rifle through the clutter in hopes of finding that prize. I have known of people who purchase every old painting they can find, in order to rip open the back as they seek to discover a hidden copy of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. We love these things because they are old, have survived the test of time, and because they remind us of the past when things were simpler or had greater integrity.

In Cuba, the entire country is an antique shop. Daily life struggling to keep the ancient cars starting, the fifty-year-old refrigerators operational, the gramophones still reading the LPs. The ideas too are old – polished and shiny through overuse. A museum of the mind.

Turns out living in an antique shop is hard, a chore.

We sometimes forget that the story of the Cuban dictatorship is also the story about individual people; nuclear families. The struggles of people to find meaning up against the colorlessness of tyranny. “The greatest tragedy of Cuba’s dictatorship,” I have heard it said, “is the theft of six generations of life.” To be sure, this is true. But without adversity, is it ever possible to develop character? We who try and write are told that, without conflict, there is no story. If that is the case, the Cuban tragedy is indeed an epic story. Great conflict, the struggle to be free against the attempts to stifle the individualism of a nation. But not only of these mammoth conflicts is a good story made. Because the Cuban story is also about the millions of micro-conflicts, individual struggles of an entire country of citizens. Those who flee, those who remain. Those who love, those who divorce or cheat – who starve or go crazy, who die.


How can you capture both of these realities, to make a story not only a one-dimensional presentation of the hardship of life under dictatorship but also the richness of lives lived as best as they were able? That was the challenge for Cristina Garcia in her debut novel “Dreaming in Cuban”. And she does it well. It is the story of three generations of a Cuban family, from before and then during the ‘revolution’. There is no after – the story of a free Cuba is still being written.

I found this short novel extremely powerful. The sadness of lost opportunity; the flight to foreign countries; the search for meaning in art or school or even Santeria, that uniquely Cuban form of witchcraft. Sex, love, lust. Betrayal. Sadness and death. As Cristina walks us through the lives of her characters we come to know them and to feel with them – and in doing so we share with them their struggles and we come to ourselves better understand the sadness and desperation of Cuba’s endless nightmare.

For those who want to understand Cuba better, read this book. You will be glad you did.
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on September 15, 2014
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.
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on April 17, 2013
True to the title, this book is definitely Cuban and dreamy. The story follows three generations of Cuban women, jumping forward and backward in time, hopping back and forth between Cuba and New York, and switching between a variety of narrative styles (i.e. third person, first person, and epistolary). This variety in time, location, style and person contributes to the dreamy ambiance, but for me it was a bit nightmarish.

The human and family relationships in this story all seem afflicted with various strains caused by disease, mental illness, obsession, repression, hysteria ... etc. There's just too much dysfunctional family behavior, poor life choices and emotional unhappiness in this book for me. There's not a single romantic relationship in this book that is healthy and supportive.

All through the book I kept telling myself that if it doesn't have a coherent ending that wraps things up in a reasonable manner I'm going to give it a rating of one star. Well as it turns out that it did have a pretty good ending, so I'm giving it two stars. Actually, the last 20% of the book deserves five stars, but with the other 80% at one star the book averages out at two stars.

I experienced this book as an example of creative/experimental/MFA writing that went overboard to no purpose other than to show off writing skills and confuse the reader. It's the sort of book that gets assigned to modern literature classes in order to torment the students.

However, upon finishing this book I see the completed story as a sad tragedy. (view spoiler) It's a story of dysfunctional relationships made worse by the political separations caused by the isolation of Communist Cuba from the USA. There are elements of Santería that appear throughout the novel.

The following quotation has special poignancy for me:
"Women who outlive their daughters are orphans, ... Only their granddaughters can save them, guard their knowledge like the first fire."
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on November 1, 2016
An excellent book focusing on three generations of Cuban women. The grandmother supports the revolutions and stayed in Cuba when her daughter left, taking her granddaughter with her. The granddaughter goes back to Cuba to see her grandmother, leaving her mother frantic. All three meet at the grandmother's apartment in Cuba, Tremendous insight into the lives of loved ones taking different stances toward the changes in Cuba since the revolution and the ouster of Batista.
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on March 31, 2014
This book has been lauded as a great piece of literature. It's not something I would be interested in sharing with friends as I don't see the point of the book - family dysfunction - which is prevalent in our society and in Cuba as well. This story takes on mysticism, mental illness, obesity, cruelty, and a myriad "isms" that affect a particular family.
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on June 26, 2016
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VINE VOICEon December 12, 2009
"Dreaming in Cuban," a finalist for the 1992 National Book Award and the debut novel of Cristina Garcia, is an interesting novel but not a great one. When it was first published, Michiko Kakutani called it "dazzling" and "completely original" in her review in the New York Times. Perhaps it was, for its era. For certain, it holds a secure place in the growing body of literature whose setting is the Caribbean.

To me, however, the novel seemed more contrived than compelling, perhaps because so many things are going on. It is often a poetic book, with beautifully observed descriptions of Cuba and of Brooklyn, where Lourdes, who has fled Cuba, lives with her restless daughter, Pilar, and her husband. It also makes use of the technique of magical realism, as at the novel's opening, when Celia, Lourdes's mother and a true believer in the Revolution and in El Líder, sees her newly dead husband "walking on water in his white suit and Panama hat." Some of Celia's story is told through the use of the letters she continues to write throughout her life to a Spanish lover she knew as a young woman. His loss drove her to madness, for a time, and mental illness also defines her other daughter, Felicia, who remains in Cuba and is drawn to the cult of Santeria, the details of whose secret rituals run like a counterpoint to the dreary Marxism of the Castro regime. The novel moves among these four women; the grandmother, Celia; the two daughters, Felicia and Lourdes, and the granddaughter, Pilar, who longs for some connection with the Cuba she left as a child. It also moves back and forth in time, from present tense to past.

Somewhere in amongst all of the devices, including lyrical description, flashbacks, multiple voices, two different settings, the use of a character's letters a la "The Color Purple," AND the presentation of historical background, the plot of the novel is lost. It is not that the story is hard to follow, with its themes of cultural political, and generational alienation. It is simply that one thread of narrative disappears into the novel's weave, and by the time it emerges again, it's hard to regain a connection with it. The title of the novel is apt: the stories in "Dreaming in Cuban" are reveries, floating bits of the past intermingled with the present.
M. Feldman
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on June 14, 2013
Very Latin way of writing read for our book club no one really enjoyed, would not recommend it to others
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on March 16, 2006
I truly love this novel and I make it a point to read it at least once a year. Everytime it makes me cry not just because the decriptions of Cuba, New York and Miami are so beautiful but because the relationship between the women in this story is so vital. I think this book helped me truly undertsand feminism in all its forms. Whether they are a capitalist, communist, democrat or republican the women in this novel all strive for freedom of thought and love and find it in their own unique ways. I can't say enough positive things about Dreaming in Cuban. All I can say, is that I wish I could be you reading this novel for the first time.
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