The Agüero Sisters

by Cristina Garcia

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Critical Overview

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The Agüero Sisters received far less critical attention than Garcia's universally praised first novel, Dreaming in Cuban. Some seemed to prefer the early novel, although almost all felt that her second novel confirmed Garcia's place as an important talent. In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani said, "Although The Agüero Sisters lacks the compelling organic unity of Ms. Garcia's remarkable debut novel, Dreaming in Cuban (1992), it should ratify Ms. Garcia's reputation as a highly original, highly gifted young writer. It also attests, like that earlier book, to Ms. Garcia's intuitive understanding of families and the fierce, enduring connections that bind one generation to another.’’

The reviews for her second novel were, with a few exceptions, favorable. Pico Iyer, writing in Time, called The Agüero Sisters a ‘‘beautifully rounded work of art, as warm and wry and sensuous as the island [Garcia] so clearly loves.’’ Lloyd Sachs, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, praised her for her ‘‘storyteller's love of irony and the unexpected with a modern poet's love of oblique language and heated logic. On the surface, she deals with the splintering of generations of Cuban families by Castro's revolution and the inseparability of the personal from the political. Deep down, she deals in strange destiny and the blackest magic.’’ And Dan Cryer of Newsday was convinced that The Agüero Sisters is the better novel of the two, describing it as "a deeper, more profound plunge into the mysteries of loyalty, love and identity (national, familial and otherwise).’’

Garcia earned praise for her oblique approach to storytelling. In her New York Times review, Deirdre McNamer said, ‘‘Ms. Garcia is a strikingly deft and supple writer, both in her sensibilities and her language. She has a talent for the oblique that allows her to write what amounts to a family saga by focusing not on the strict beat that constitutes conventional plot development but on seemingly off-hand memories and exchanges. The large events in the book—a lightning strike, a patricide, a guerrilla attack on Cuba—occur in the wings, so to speak. They are not what Ms. Garcia's characters choose to tell us much about. The important stories occur in the interstices between these dramatic events.’’

Other reviewers pointed out that Garcia has been somewhat misclassified and her ties to the magical realists exaggerated. Dan Cryer noted: ‘‘Some critics have mistakenly labeled Garcia as a magical realist in the Gabriel García Márquez mode. This characterization is silly and misleading. She does not make characters fly, birds talk or time twist backward. Still, hers is a prose, like the Colombian Nobel Prize winner's, rich with the delights of the senses. Her essentially realist vision overflows with warmth and brio.''

Critics were quick to notice and speculate about the similarities between The Agüero Sisters and Dreaming in Cuban. A few critics faulted Garcia for revisiting old material in her second novel. Ilan Stavans, writing in the Nation, said The Agüero Sisters reads ‘‘like a hand-me-down,’’ and lamented that ‘‘with only a slight difference in approach, Garcia already gave her readers this material.’’ Although he praised her writing, he concluded that ‘‘Garcia has written, in many ways, the same book twice.’’ And yet even after leveling this serious criticism, Stavans emphasized: ‘‘Don't get me wrong: Garcia is an immensely talented writer whose work, like that of Jessica Hagedorn Sherman Alexie and David Foster Wallace, is renewing American fiction.’’

Others noted the family resemblance but, like Cryer, felt that The Agüero Sisters was the better book. Nina King, writing in the Washington Post, said, "The many parallels in theme and technique between Garcia's two novels might suggest a failure of authorial imagination. But The Agüero Sisters is undoubtedly the better novel of the two: denser, more focused, with a greater richness of language and of comic invention. To my mind, it's a case of practice making perfect.’’ And in discussing the two books, Ruth Behar wrote in the Chicago Tribune that The Agüero Sisters is ‘‘an even more gorgeously written, even more flamboyantly feminist vision of Cuban and Cuban-American history, women's lives, memory and desire.’’

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Essays and Criticism