Nationality: Cuban-American. Born: Havana, Cuba (immigrated to United States in 1960), 4 July 1958. Education: Barnard College, B.A. 1979. Family: Married Scott Brown in 1990; one daughter. Career: Reporter and researcher, Time magazine, 1983-85, correspondent, 1985-90, bureau chief in Miami, 1987-88. Awards: Hodder fellowship (Princeton University), 1992-93; Cintas fellowship, 1992-93; Whiting Writers Award, 1996. Agent: Ellen Levine, 15 East 26th Street, Number 1801, New York, New York 10010, U.S.A.
Dreaming in Cuban. New York, Knopf, 1992.
The Agüero Sisters. New York, Knopf, 1997.
Cars of Cuba (essay), created by D.D. Allen, photographs by JoshuaGreene. New York, Abrams, 1995.* * *
Cristina Garcia's literary reputation is based on the publication of two novels in the 1990s, Dreaming in Cuban and The Agüero Sisters. In these two works, she explores similar themes—how the actions of different generations affect each, sibling differences, geographic displacement, political and personal deterioration, delusion, and the implausibility of emotional intimacy between the sexes—though the second work takes a stylistically more mature approach.
Born in Cuba in 1958, Garcia arrived in the United States in 1960 during the first wave of Cuban emigration. She was educated at Barnard College, studied at the School of International Affairs at Johns Hopkins, and worked as a reporter for Time magazine. Garcia was the first Cuban-America woman to publish a novel written in English; her work reflects the ongoing sensibility of those Cuban-Americans whose loyalties oscillate between Cuba and the United States.
Dreaming in Cuban focuses on three generations of Cuban and Cuban-American women whose ineffectual spouses and lovers often lead them to delusion and insanity. Women dominate the book, which is written in brief first and third person narratives. The inability of men to satisfy the basic desires of women—sexual and otherwise—leads them to unfulfilled fantasies and obsession. Matriarch Celia continues writing letters to an absent Spanish lover, despite her subsequent marriage and mental deterioration. One of her daughters fantasizes about having sex with "El Líder," as Garcia dubs the phantom Fidel Castro. Madness has led this daughter to dispose of three spouses or lovers by violent means. A second daughter escapes Cuba for the United States after the revolution, grows grotesquely fat, makes unrealistic sexual demands on her husband—who in turn retreats from emotional intimacy—and is haunted by her father's ghost. The third generation is rootless, plagued by and rebelling against a sense of nonspecific loss and political and personal disinterest that perhaps will be overcome only by an exchange of Cuba for the United States or vice-versa, though Garcia ends the book ambiguously. Cuba's political situation comes under a critical microscope, though Garcia interweaves the political and the personal, blaming neither exclusively for the deterioration of the characters' lives. From the opening pages and throughout the book, Garcia undermines assumptions that Dreaming in Cuban is a political novel by leading the reader to that assumption and then abruptly switching focus onto the personal events of a character's life, which may take equal blame in the evolution of his or her situation.
The Agüero Sisters is a much more mature effort, focusing to a great extent on personal search and redemption. Though generational effects continue, as in Dreaming in Cuban, in The Agüero Sisters Garcia pares the story down to that of two sisters, one in the United States, the other in Cuba, and their parents. Men are again ineffectual, though the father, Ignacio, is permitted to speak for himself through diary entries that describe events leading up his wife's murder by his own hand. Madness, delusion, and an overwhelming desire to reach an uncharacterized essence of life through a direct relationship with the earth bring her to abandon her husband and child, humiliating the former. Her actions, his over-intellectualism, and the resulting inability to understand her or meet her needs drive him to murder and suicide. Garcia unfolds the story gradually through the intermittence of the diary entries. The Agüero Sisters also benefits from Garcia's linguistic maturity in choosing the appropriate rather than the significant word, as she had done in Dreaming in Cuban. Though Dreaming in Cuban had a few comic episodes, The Agüero Sisters has almost none. The Afro-Cuban religion of santería also plays a smaller role.
Critical reaction to Garcia's work has been limited by the small number of works to date, but has been exceptional. Thulani Davis, reviewing Dreaming in Cuban in the New York Times, compared Garcia's use of language to that of Louise Erdrich, writing that "Ms. Garcia has distilled a new tongue from scraps salvaged through upheaval." Margarite Fernández Olmos, writing in Bendíceme, America, noted the powerful link between politics and Latina sexuality in Garcia's work.
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