Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Book Review: "Dreaming in Cuban" by Cristina Garcia
Celia del Pino is a Cuban woman in her late 60's who supports Cuba and its revolution. While her husband, Jorge, is a supporter of the American form of government. Jorge leaves his wife in Cuba and goes to live with his daughter Lourdes in America while seeking medical treatment for stomach cancer. He dies, never returning to Cuba, which haunts Celia, never again having seen her husband.
Celia's daughter Lourdes, who has fled from Cuba and moved to Brooklyn, opens up a bakery. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and her daughter, Pilar. Pilar is a teenager with a punk style and rebellious attitude. Although Pilar rebels against her mother, she manages to retain a connection to her grandmother in Cuba. Celia is afraid that her granddaughter will lose her Cuban heritage while living in the U.S. Celia's other daughter Felicia, lives in Cuba and becomes mentally unstable and practices the religion of Santeria.
This novel took me on a journey of highs and lows. It is a portrait of the dysfunctional relationship between mother and child. Celia and her daughters struggle for a balance in their different ideals and beliefs but never reach a fully resolved medium. The history of Cuba propels Celia to try and maintain a familial connection, while the cultural and political shackles tear her family apart. The main themes present in this novel are cultural and generational differences, forced and self-imposed exile, dysfunctional relationships, mental illness and political tension to name a few.
I think I read the entire book in a Latin accent in my mind. The words were easy, silky and rhythmic. It was as if I were reading a novel living in a poetic whirlwind. With lyrical oxymorons, the words flowed from the page with a literary cadence. The rhapsodic flow seduced me and I wanted more words to read and absorb, to practice and refine my Latin accent. There are some beautifully written sentences that are so rich, that my dislike for the structure of the novel with its jumping of location, time and place became tolerable. The narrative content is not compelling. I did not walk away with some new found enlightenment. But I did reach the end with an enhanced appreciation for storytelling. If I could sum this book into one word it would be... dreamy. I would highly recommend this book.
Memorable Quotes and Excerpts
"Celia reaches into her straw handbag for more red lipstick, then darkens the mole on her left cheek with a black eyebrow pencil. Her sticky graying hair is tied in a chignon at her neck. Celia played the piano once and still exercises her hands, unconsciously stretching them two notes beyond an octave. She wears leather pumps with her bright housedress."
"This was just like her. Pretty words. Meaningless words that didn't nourish us, that didn't comfort us, that kept us prisoners in her alphabet world."
"My sister and I call our mother "not-Mama." As in not-Mama charred the chicken and is cursing in the kitchen. Not-Mama is playing that record again, dancing by herself in the dark. Watch out, not-Mama is feeling sorry for herself. She wants us to tell her we love her. When we don't, she looks right past us as if she could see another pair of girls just behind us, girls who will tell her what she wants to hear."