By Cristina Garcia.
245 pages
New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.
ISBN # 0-345-38143-2

Comments of Bob Corbett
February 2002

Three generations of Cuban women dominate this marvelously told story of a family divided by politics and the Castro revolution in Cuba. Celia del Pino is the effective head of the family. She is a loyal follower of Castro who watches the beaches near her small home to protect from a surprise attack from the assumed enemies of the regime. Her daughter Felicia also remains in Cuba, but has no interest in politics and has recurring bouts of insanity but finally dies when she succumbs to a fanatical version of Cuban Santeria religion. Her sister Lourdes immigrates to the United States and exalts in her own version of the American dream becoming a successful owner of a small bakery chain. Lourdes is as bitterly anti-Castro as her mother is pro. Finally we have Pilar, daughter of Lourdes and born the very year that Castro took power. Raised in Brooklyn, but with strong feelings of her Cuban roots, Pilar is a punk artist and later musician. She is caught with a foot in both words, nostalgic for Cuba and her grandmother, but fully rooted in the cultural scene of New York City.

There are other members of the del Pino family who play lesser roles and Celia’s late husband, Jorge, plays the most curious role, a bit of magic realism as he spends several years in conversation with Lourdes after he has died. Only gradually does he fade away leaving Lourdes in a position where she can finally pay a visit to her aging and dying mother in Cuba.

Luz, Milagro and Ivanito, children of Felicia also have their place in this family drama, but in the main this is the story of the four main women sketched above. Also ever present is Gustavo Sierra de Armas who had a love affair with Celia in the early 30s and left Cuba forever in 1934 for his native Spain. Celia writes him letters, which she never mails, but which enrich out understanding of her and her family, until Jan. 11, 1959 in which she concludes her unmailed correspondence with:

“My dearest Gustavo,
“The revolution is eleven days old. My granddaughter, Pilar Puente del Pino, was born today. It is also my birthday. I am fifty years old. I will no longer write to you mi amor. She will remember everything.
“My love always,

Cristina Garcia captures the hard lives of those in Cuba and brings us both those like Celia who are dedicated to the revolution, and the vivid picture of those like Lourdes who have left Cuba and carry a profound bitterness against the revolution. Garcia seems to take no side, no stand. She presents the lives of all these people, their hardships and triumphs, doubts and personal weaknesses and strengths without much comment. Her considerable ability as a writer seems to be to bring us living and breathing people in whom we can believe and who reveal so much of the times and situations in which history has thrust them.

This is Cristina Garcia’s first novel. She was born in Havana, Cuba in 1958 but grew up in New York City. She attended Barnard College and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. She has been a correspondent for Time magazine and lives in Los Angeles with her husband Scott Brown.

Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu

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Bob Corbett corbetre@webster.edu