In 1997, when The Agüero Sisters was published, Cristina Garcia confirmed that her literary subject was multi-generational Cuban-American families with all their conflicts, emotional complexity, and belief in magic and miracles. By the time this novel was published, Garcia was already well known for her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, which received outstanding reviews when it was published in 1992.
The Agüero Sisters is clearly the work of the same author as Dreaming in Cuban. Not only do the two share a preoccupation with family dynamics, but both novels have justifiably been praised for their unusual and poetic use of language. Garcia wrote poetry before she began her first novel. In an interview in Newsday, Garcia said: "Language is what drives a narrative. If I'm reading a novel and it doesn't engage me sentence by sentence, I won't finish it." She said that she stopped being a journalist because of her love of poetry: ‘‘I first started reading poetry in a serious way when I was about thirty. After that, there was no turning back. It was just this explosion of language and possibility that I hadn't known existed.’’ Throughout The Agüero Sisters her love of language comes through in unforgettable images. Reina recalls her dead mother's throat as ‘‘an estuary of color and disorder.’’ She describes a ‘‘sky collapsing with stars,’’ a refrigerator that coughs ‘‘like a four-pack-a-day smoker,’’ and rain that's ‘‘hard, linear and relentless, like self-important men.’’
Set in the Zapata Swamp in Cuba, more than three decades before the main drama of Garcia's The Agüero Sisters unfolds, the prologue lets the reader in on the family secret that informs the main action of the novel. Ignacio and Blanca Agüero, husband-and-wife naturalists, are on the first collecting trip they've undertaken together in nine years. They're hunting ruddy ducks for a new museum collection in Boston. The trip takes on a slightly unreal aspect because of the unsparing sunlight: "On cloudless days like this, the light in the Zapata was so fierce that even the most experienced travelers were deceived, made to consider all manner of ruinous delusions.'' When Blanca spots a rare type of bee hummingbird, she turns to alert her husband only to find he's pointing a double-barreled gun at her. With no explanation, he shoots her and then carries her body seventeen miles to the nearest village, and lies about the deed.
Part I: Tropical Disturbances
Garcia tells the intertwined stories of the Agüero family, and although each person's individual story is intricately connected to the stories of all the other characters, they are also essentially separate. This section opens with Reina Agüero climbing a telephone pole as she repairs a high-voltage cable outside El Cobre, a town in eastern Cuba. While fixing a water pump there, Reina is in a freak accident and is pinioned in the highest branches of a large tree that's hit by lightning. She receives skin grafts from loved ones and her scars become a symbol of family solidarity. Her daughter, Dulce, now has a missing strip of thigh and her scar "reminds Reina of the purplish burns on her own mother's forearms. Blanca Mestre Agüero had started as a chemist and bore the telltale signs of her profession's serious demands." After Reina recovers, she decides to visit Constancia in Miami and make peace with her own history.
Constancia is also undergoing changes. Her husband, Heberto Cruz, is determined to leave his successful tobacco business in New York and has purchased a condominium on Key Biscayne, Florida, where they'll retire together. Once the couple arrives in Florida, Heberto begins spending time with his brother, Gonzalo, and soon goes off on a counter-revolutionary mission, against Constancia's...
(The entire section is 962 words.)