Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Part 2, Chapter 10 : Imagining Winter (Baskets of Water) | Summary



Ivanito Villaverde narrates in first person. In school, his facility with language and photographic memory have earned him the adoration Mr. Mikoyan, his Russian language instructor. Mr. Mikoyan keeps a bowl of ice on his desk, which he uses to cool himself, and instructs his students that heat is bad for the mind. Mr. Mikoyan's sudden departure from the school is followed by accusations of "indiscretions" with students.

A third-person narrator follows the perspective of Felicia Villaverde beginning in January 1978. A santero tells Felicia, who longs for a new husband, "Water cannot be carried in a basket ... What you wish for, daughter, you cannot keep." On her way home she meets and falls in love with Ernesto Brito, a restaurant inspector. Four days into their affair, he dies in a grease fire at a hotel. Felicia becomes convinced that El Lider and others, including her beauty salon client Graciela Moreira, are to blame for Ernesto's death. Felicia lapses into amnesia after she tries to hurt Graciela by burning her head with menstrual blood and lye.

On July 26, 1978, Felicia begins to come out of her amnesia and realizes she has married a man named Otto who works at an amusement park in Cienfuegos. He plans to take her to Minnesota, the "coldest state in the U.S." During their lovemaking, she has a vision of Ivanito asking her to come home. After the vision, Felicia coaxes Otto onto a roller coaster. He is standing as they crest a steep hill. Felicia closes her eyes and Otto disappears.

A third-person narrator follows Celia del Pino's perspective in January 1978. Her son, Javier, returns from Czechoslovakia heartbroken after his wife left him for another man and took their daughter. Celia, who understands his heartbreak, hopes "that the sea, with its sustaining rhythms and breezes from distant lands, will ease her son's heart." After Celia nurses him for two months, Javier begins to drink heavily. Celia quits her volunteer activities to care for her son, feeling that "if she can't save her son she won't be able to save herself, or Felicia, or anyone she loves." Celia gets the santera who helped her in 1934 when she was lovesick to come to the house to heal Javier. While praying in Celia's front yard, the santera evaporates, leaving only her shawl. Celia finds that Javier is gone.


This chapter is full of repetition, as echoes of the characters' past lives continue to shape their future. Javier's sickbed heartbreak is a repetition of the heartbreak Celia experienced in 1934 after being left by her Spanish lover. This repetition creates a point of connection between Celia and her son, but the empathy of this shared experience cannot save Javier. Instead of finding a way to live in what life has left him like Celia did, he chooses to obliterate himself, becoming a drunk before literally vanishing. Javier's vanishing is echoed in the surreal vanishing of the santera who comes to the house to pray for him. This is the same santera who told Celia in 1934 that Celia had a "wet landscape" in her hand and that Celia would survive "the hard flames." Celia will survive, but this seems to be a sure indication that, as Celia suspects while nursing Javier, she cannot save any of her loved ones.

For Felicia, repetition also unfolds in continuing tragedy. In this chapter, it is unclear whether Felicia is actually responsible for Ernesto Brito's death by fire, or Otto's death when he falls—or is pushed—out of the roller coaster. However, the curse of repetition seems to suggest that Felicia is indeed responsible for the death of these men and that her madness, the result of the trauma from Hugo's abuse and the deterioration of her brain from his syphilis, either directly kills them or at least condemns them by association. Another startling repetition involving fire, death, and Felicia is the incredible coincidence of her attempt to kill Hugo by grease fire and the actual death of Ernesto in a restaurant fire.

Contrasted with these motifs of fire and heat and destruction are the cold, icy motifs, here represented by Ivanito's Russian teacher, Mr. Mikoyan. Mikoyan is aligned with Felicia in his adoration of what is cold and his rejection of what is hot. However, his presence in hot Cuba is not sustainable, which is indicated by his sudden and rather scandalous departure from Cuba, back to cold Russia. As a Russian, Mr. Mikoyan also represents the Soviet Union. While Mikoyan seems to adore Ivanito, who represents Cuba, and grooms him with knowledge of Russian, Mr. Mikoyan also turns out to not be what he seems. This disillusionment with Mikoyan/Russia and therefore the Russian-style communism of Cuba comes to a head for Ivanito later in the novel.

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