Dreaming in Cuban | Study Guide

Cristina García

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Dreaming in Cuban | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1: Ordinary Seductions

Set in Cuba and New York City, Dreaming in Cuban employs a nonchronological, multivoiced narrative to tell the story of three generations of the del Pino family. In Havana, Cuba, in the spring of 1934, Celia Almeida (Celia del Pino) becomes desperately lovesick after a brief but passionate affair with a Spaniard named Gustavo Sierra de Armas. The following spring, Celia marries Jorge del Pino and enters into a life of "ordinary seductions." She chronicles this life in the letters she will write (but not send) to Gustavo for the next 25 years. Jorge, jealous of Celia's love for the absent Spaniard, commits her to an asylum after the birth of their first daughter, Lourdes (Lourdes Puente).

Celia's family was split following the socialist takeover of Cuba by El Lider (Fidel Castro) in 1959. After surviving a miscarriage and being raped by a soldier of Castro's revolution, Lourdes takes her two-year-old daughter, Pilar, to live in Brooklyn, New York. Celia's son, Javier del Pino, immigrates to Czechoslovakia in 1966. That same year, Celia's middle daughter, Felicia Villaverde, mad with syphilis, tries to kill her abusive husband, Hugo Villaverde, by lighting him on fire. Two years later, Jorge del Pino goes to New York to be with Lourdes, who owns a bakery, while he receives treatment for stomach cancer. When Jorge dies in the spring of 1972, his spirit, bathed in blue light, journeys back to Cuba and appears to Celia, who is watching the coastline for hostile invaders. On the same day, teenaged Pilar Puente runs away in an unsuccessful attempt to return to Cuba and her beloved grandmother, Celia. In the following weeks, the deceased Jorge begins to converse with his daughter Lourdes, explaining things about their family. Widowed Celia turns her life over to the cause of the socialist revolution. That summer, Felicia's psychosis culminates in her attempt to kill herself and her beloved five-year-old son, Ivanito Villaverde.

Part 2: Imagining Winter

The action in part two covers the period from 1974 to early 1980 for the del Pino family. After Felicia Villaverde's attempt to kill herself and Ivanito, she is put into a revolutionary brigade as an attempt to integrate her into society. Celia del Pino contributes by serving as a civilian judge in the newly established People's Court, settling interpersonal disputes and charges of undermining the regime. Felicia's daughters Luz and Milagro Villaverde begin visiting their father, Hugo Villaverde, in secret. Hugo has returned from his travels and is living at a hotel in Havana and receiving disability for his burns. The visits end when the children walk in on him having sex with a masked woman. Felicia has two more relationships with men that end in their deaths. She suffers amnesia and disappears. Javier del Pino returns home to Cuba heartbroken, before becoming a drunk and then vanishing. When Felicia returns to her family, she becomes initiated as a Santeria priestess. This brings her clarity briefly, but she soon sickens and dies.

Meanwhile, in New York, Lourdes Puente, who is serving as a community policewoman, jumps into the icy East River in a failed attempt to save a Puerto Rican boy from suicide. She opens a second bakery and asks Pilar to paint something patriotic for the grand opening. When Pilar's subversive punk-style Statue of Liberty painting is unveiled, Lourdes physically protects the painting from being destroyed by a man with a knife. Lourdes stops eating and grows thin. Her appetite returns after she has a vision of her unborn son who she lost in a miscarriage before fleeing Cuba. Pilar goes to art school and receives visionary powers following a sexual assault in a park. Jorge del Pino urges Lourdes to return to Cuba after revealing to her some of their family's secrets.

Part 3: The Languages Lost

In April 1980 Lourdes and Pilar return to Cuba the day after Felicia's burial. Pilar connects with Celia, bringing her back to life with her presence and painting her portrait. When a group of political dissidents enter the Peruvian embassy hoping to flee the country, Lourdes brings Ivanito to the embassy so he can also flee. Celia and Pilar rush to the embassy to intercept Ivanito, but the mob has broken out in violence. Pilar finds Ivanito and then lets him go. She lies to her grandmother that Ivanito had already left the country. Celia walks into the sea and releases the pearl earrings—a gift from Gustavo—that she has worn for 50 years.

Dreaming in Cuban Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 Heartbroken Celia begins to write letters to her ex-lover.

Rising Action

2 Celia marries Jorge del Pino.

3 Jorge puts Celia in an asylum after Lourdes's birth.

4 Pilar is born and Celia writes her final letter.

5 Lourdes miscarries and is raped by a soldier.

6 Lourdes emigrates from Cuba to New York with Pilar.

7 Felicia tries to burn her husband, Hugo, to death.

8 After dying in New York, Jorge appears to Celia in Cuba.

9 Celia devotes herself to El Lider's revolution.

10 Deceased Jorge begins conversing with his daughter, Lourdes.


11 Going mad, Felicia tries to kill herself and Ivanito.

Falling Action

12 Jorge urges Lourdes to return to Cuba.

13 After a sexual assault, Pilar decides to return to Cuba.

14 Felicia dies after being initiated into Santeria.


15 Pilar and Lourdes visit Cuba. Ivanito escapes the country.

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