The novel Dreaming in Cuban explores the lives of the Pino family through its women. Written by Cristina Garcia, this book is set against Cuba after the revolution and through the hostile years surrounding the Bay of Pigs. However, it not the setting that creates the real tension in this story but the friction within the family itself. Each of the women is blessed with passion and cursed with mental instability. Though similar in these aspects, their lives are poles apart and their devotion focuses on very different things.
Celia is the matriarch of the family. She is fervent in her support of El Lider. When she was young, she had a whirlwind romance with a Spaniard, and since their tryst, she has written letters to him once a month, but never sends them. These letters are used to help chronicle her life. She has three children, Lourdes, Felicia, and Javier (who is the only brother and mostly absent in this story aside from a brief, albeit tragic appearance). Lourdes despises Castro, his leadership, and Cuba. She flees the island and opens a bakery in New York. She has an addictive personality. She’s addicted to her beliefs, to food, to anger, and at one point, to her diet. She resents her mother and anything to do with Cuba. Her sister, Felicia, however, is her antithesis. Where Lourdes is passionate in her hate, Felicia is completely indifferent. She doesn’t care one way or another about the state of Cuba, which puts her at odds with both her mother and her sister. After a complete break from reality, Felicia does find solace in the Santería religion.
Pilar is Lourdes’s daughter. She is an artist and a bit of an anarchist. In her mind, “Art…is the ultimate revolution,” and she uses her art to protest against society and Lourdes. Her and her mother do not get along that well, but there are a couple of fleeting, yet touching moments between the two. Pilar longs to return to Cuba, to her Abuela Celia, which she hardly remembers. Even in her eccentricities, Pilar seems to be the most grounded of the Pino women.
Through these women, Garcia explores the meaning of freedom. She doesn’t seem too biased for or against Cuba or Castro. Ultimately, the idea is expressed through the voice of Celia: “Freedom…is nothing more than the right to a decent life.”
The book can be a bit slow and a bit preachy at times, but it has its moments where the characters and situations outshine the sermon. There is a tragic beauty to the story that would interest feminists and enthusiasts of Cuban history and culture.