Cuba and Cubans are at the center of all of Cristina García’s novels. The search for cultural identity, the complexity of family ties, and the generational divide among the emigrants are the major recurring themes in her works. In a 2003 interview in Criticas, García admitted that each of her books “embroiders the themes and obsessions” that prompted her to write in the first place. With characters from differing backgrounds populating her novels, her major concerns remain the question of belonging and “negotiating identities between and among cultures.”
García’s second novel, The Agüero Sisters, draws upon her family’s experience and deals with the divided loyalties of a Cuban family. After the overthrow of the dictatorship, one of the Agüero sisters moves to New York to escape the aftermath of the Cuban Revolution while the other stays behind to serve the revolutionary cause. The novel, though not as popular as her first, was well received. For her next novel, Monkey Hunting, García turned her attention to Cuba’s colonial past—of the African slaves and the Chinese indentured workers who toiled in the sugarcane fields. Monkey Hunting is the story of Chen Pan and his descendants. García covers a period of more than one hundred years, from Chen Pan’s rise as a virtual slave to a successful businessperson and the vicissitudes of his children and grandchildren’s lives in Cuba, China, and, later, in New York.
García employs multiple shifting narrators in her fiction so that each character’s perspective propels the plot. Politics often seeps into the lives of the characters, yet her novels are not political in nature. Her novels are feminist in that they reveal the hardships and oppression endured by women in patriarchal societies. She expanded the range of characters in her last two novels; the use of different narrative voices helps her in revealing their inner lives.
García’s familiarity with Latin American literature, particularly the works of Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Jorge Amado, and Julio Cortázar, led to her interest in Magical Realism and spirituality. For García, “the fantastic is an extension of reality,” and there is no “great divide between what’s true and what isn’t true.” She explores this uncharted territory in all her novels.
A notable aspect of García’s novels is her use of language. Her love of poetry, especially the works of Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Federico García Lorca, and Wallace Stevens, is reflected in her lyrical language. She has mentioned in interviews that it was her interest in poetry that turned her into a writer. In a 2003 interview, she said that she begins writing only after reading poetry for an hour or two to help her gain distance from the world of logical thinking. Her appreciation of the “music of sentence” and “the jarring juxtaposition of unexpected images” derives from her love of poetry. Vivid descriptions in crisp and poetic language are the hallmark of her writing.
Dreaming in Cuban
Dreaming in Cuban is García’s best-known work. Its incorporation in numerous American and multicultural literature courses and the critical attention it has drawn are testaments to its significance in contemporary literature. The novel revolves around the lives of three generations of women—Celia del Pino; her two daughters, Lourdes and Felicia; and Pilar, her granddaughter. The focus of the novel remains on the del Pino family, even though it is set over a period of many years. This focus allows the author to paint a picture of Cuba’s evolution from Spanish colonialism to Castro’s socialism, and it brings out the two unyielding attitudes of the Cubans toward the revolution: those of the exiles who constantly dream of reinstating the old order and those who steadfastly stay loyal to Castro.
Set in the 1970’s, the novel brings out the conflicts between those who renounce the new Cuba and those who stay loyal. The new generation growing up in exile shares neither the nostalgia nor the denunciation of Castro’s Cuba by their parents’ generation. The young are Americans in spirit, yet remain tethered to their parents and the mother country.
The novel begins with a striking picture of a well-dressed, matronly, Cuban woman sitting on her porch with binoculars in her hand, scanning the blue waters for any traitors likely to invade the island...
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