Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 1, Chapter 1 : Ordinary Seductions (Ocean Blue) | Summary

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Summary

In April 1972, 11 years after the Bay of Pigs invasion, middle-aged Celia del Pino sits on her front porch in Santa Teresa del Mar on the Cuban coast. Binoculars in hand, she is keeping watch against an enemy invasion. Her husband, Jorge del Pino, has been in New York treating his stomach cancer. Jorge's larger-than-life figure approaches Celia, glowing blue and speaking words she can't hear. Celia shouts that she cannot hear him, but he disappears. Celia understands that her husband has died.

The next morning, Celia's grown daughter, Felicia Villaverde, comes from Havana to her mother's house wild with grief. Celia tells her, "I know already ... He was here last night." Celia tells Felicia to telegram news of his father's death to Javier Villaverde, Celia's grown son who lives in Czechoslovakia. Felica reports that her sister, Lourdes Puente, a baker in New York City, has been told by the nuns that their father's death constituted a Holy Ascension.

In 1944, when Felicia was six, a tidal wave hit the village. Immediately prior, the "sea's languid retreat into the horizon" exposed a seafloor full of shells, which Felicia collected and brought home. Her mother reprimanded her, claiming shells were bad luck. Following Jorge's death, Felicia and her best friend Herminia Delgado consult a Santeria priestess. La Madrina performs a ritual of sacrifice and cleansing for the peace of Felicia and her dead father.

Analysis

This chapter's title, "Ocean Blue," evokes several important concepts in the novel. The island of Cuba is surrounded by an ocean that separates Celia from certain loved ones, such as her daughter in the United States. Colors are vested with associative weight throughout the text. Blue suggests the sorrow Celia and other characters live with; the vast distance that separates loved ones, and the supernatural, since Celia's husband appears to her as a glowing blue figure.

Two threads weave together in this opening chapter: the harsh reality of Cuba's political atmosphere and the supernatural or magical. These are dominant forces throughout the text, each exerting its own influence on the lives of Celia's family. Notably, author Cristina García does not present the supernatural as more extraordinary or less real than the political context. This synthesis is characteristic of the genre of magic realism. Similarly, the third-person narrative fluidly switches between the perspective of Celia and Felicia. García presents the same events from various perspectives throughout the text, allowing the multiple voices and perspectives to layer upon one another.

Both Celia and Felicia are accustomed to living with extrasensory perceptual abilities. Felicia's grief shows she knows of her father's death without being told. Celia also understands exactly what Felicia is grieving about, without Felicia having to say anything. Indeed, these abilities of clairsentience (knowing at a distance) and clairvoyance (seeing at a distance), of perceiving spirits and understanding the messages encoded in ordinary worldly details, run in the family.

The mention of the Bay of Pigs invasion in the opening lines of the novel establishes the narrative's political context and underscores its importance. Socialist revolutionary Fidel Castro (1926–2016) seized control of Cuba in 1959. Many Cubans who opposed his socialist rule fled their homeland in what is known as the diaspora. On April 17, 1961, a group of anti-Castro Cuban exiles backed by the United States government landed at the Bay of Pigs on the southwestern coast of Cuba. They intended to overthrow Castro but failed. Celia, who keeps watch against another Bay of Pigs-type invasion, is sympathetic to the regime of Castro, referred to throughout the novel as El Lider. However, Celia's family is split politically and physically over their allegiances to the revolutionary regime of El Lider. This is suggested by the absence of her daughter Lourdes and her son, Javier, who have immigrated to the United States and Czechoslovakia, respectively.

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