Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 1, Chapter 5 : Ordinary Seductions (A Grove of Lemons) | Summary



Pilar Puente, narrating in the first person, arrives in Miami in April 1972. She goes to find a cousin she hopes will help her reach Cuba. On the way, she rests inside a Catholic church, though she disdains Catholicism. If she can only reach Cuba, she will know at last where she belongs. Back home, her mother had sent her to a psychiatrist, but painting "is its own language" and helps Pilar deal with her dark feelings. She finds her cousin's home but is afraid to go in. When one of Pilar's aunts finds her outside the next morning, Pilar is forced to return to Brooklyn, which "doesn't feel like home."

The narration switches to third person following the perspective of Lourdes Puente. Her father, Jorge del Pino, speaks to her forty days after his funeral. Lourdes, who "abhors ambiguity," fears "she has exhausted reality." She tries to push the voice away by throwing herself into work at the bakery but becomes distraught when she finds her new employee, a Puerto Rican woman, stealing coins.

After fleeing Cuba with Rufino and Pilar, Lourdes had to keep going ever north until she reached Brooklyn, a place that was "cold enough." Two months earlier she had miscarried her unborn son after encountering armed soldiers in her home. When the same soldiers came back to seize the Puente estate as property of the government, one of the soldiers violently raped Lourdes. During the rape, Lourdes focused on the soldier's smell and noticed "the citrus brillantine in his hair, as if a grove of lemons lay hidden there." She could also smell him at pivotal moments in his past and future, including when his son died and when he is later wounded in war. Afterward, he carved something illegible onto her stomach. Lourdes complains to her father that her daughter, Pilar, hates her. He replies, "Pilar doesn't hate you ... She just hasn't learned to love you yet."


Lourdes, like her mother, Celia del Pino, and her sister, Felicia Villaverde, has a power to see, know, and understand what is hidden. This power seems to be connected to sexual or romantic traumas involving men. Celia deteriorates into psychosis after her abandonment by Gustavo and her pregnancy and abandonment—to his work travel—by her husband, Jorge del Pino. Felicia Villaverde has delusions related to the breakdown of her marriage with Hugo Villaverde. The chapter's title refers to the soldier who raped Lourdes Puente. During her violation, Lourdes receives information about the soldier's entire life, past and future, through her sense of smell.

These violations and traumas are personal, but also refer to systematic power relations at a societal level. The soldier's rape of Lourdes is symbolic of and functions to critique the revolution's abuse and violation of the Cuban people. The sensory and extrasensory powers Lourdes and other women in her family receive as a result of these violations are a kind of empowerment. That Lourdes receives information through the sense of smell during the rape suggests the potency of her power, as smell is a primal sense. Through smell, Lourdes is able to know everything about this soldier, even things that have not happened yet. However, Lourdes's rationalistic bent causes her to reject the supernatural rather than be empowered by it. Instead, she works out her own lack of agency over her own body by putting herself under extreme measures of control, growing morbidly obese at the bakery.

The soldier's failed attempt to carve some words into Lourdes's stomach also has significance. The words he tries to inscribe on her fail as they are illegible, suggesting that violence, brutal as it may be, has limited power. The fading of the words from her body also undercut the soldier's power over her.

In this chapter Pilar's thwarted journey southward is contrasted with her mother's journey northward years prior. Mother and daughter trace the same route but in opposite directions and years apart. This structural contrast and repetition with variation builds upon the idea that Cuba has a power almost like a magnetic charge for the family. It repelled Lourdes after her sexual violation, but the same magnetism pulls her daughter toward Cuba. The contrasting journeys also underscore the difficulty in the relationship of Pilar and Lourdes. Mother and daughter cross the same paths but literally are unable to "meet in the middle." This has a lot to do with their sense of where they belong. Lourdes has built a new life for herself in New York City, and her sense of power and agency there makes it far more "home" than Cuba. In contrast, for Pilar, still a teenager and under her mother's control, Brooklyn "doesn't feel like home." Home, for these women, is very much defined by a feeling of control over their own lives.

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