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Cristina García's debut novel, Dreaming in Cuban (1992), was not only pivotal in the career of its author but also a watershed moment for Latina/o literature. Nominated for the National Book Award, Dreaming in Cuban has been included on university and high school reading lists nationwide, and portions of it have been anthologized. Beyond simply propelling its author's renown, the book increased the visibility and acceptance of Latina/o writing within the mainstream American literary canon. The novel's treatment of Cuban exiles' acculturation to the United States is compelling and the focus of much of the scholarship on the book. Yet its exploration of Cuban citizens' acculturation to Castro's Cuba—presented through Cuba's intricate political and cultural history—is equally provocative. This acculturation is the basis for García's subsequent novels, The Agüero Sisters (1997) and Monkey Hunting (2003).
Cristina García was born in Havana in 1958. Her parents chose to live in exile when Castro assumed power. Because she was two years old when they left, she has no memories of Cuba; this lack has shaped her academic interests and pervades her writing, where memory is a constant motif. García grew up in New York City and attended Barnard College. After completing a master's degree in international relations at Johns Hopkins University, García began a decade-long period of work in journalism, ultimately attaining the position of bureau chief for Time magazine in Miami. Beginning in 1990, she devoted herself full-time to writing fiction. She has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University [End Page 175] and received a Whiting Writer's Award in 1996. She has been a visiting writer in residence at UCLA and at Mills College. Last summer, she was a workshop leader for the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation Summer Writing Workshop for Writers of Color, VOICES.
The Agüero Sisters and Monkey Hunting depart significantly from Dreaming in Cuban in that they examine the cultural and political legacies of Cuba's colonial past rather than its more recent, communist history. Appearing within years of the one hundredth anniversary of the Spanish American War, these novels traverse time and place in a rich engagement of Cuba's histories—cultural, racial, and natural. Both novels continue the provocative experimentation with narrative voices and story lines that García began in Dreaming in Cuban. The Agüero Sisters, for example, features a first-person male narrative voice, in a shift from a matriarchal to a patriarchal point of view. The novel offers a nuanced treatment of the kaleidoscope of race, sexuality, and class in pre-Castro Cuba. Monkey Hunting presents another version of Cuban cultural history in its depiction of the experiences of Chinese immigrant laborers in nineteenth-century Cuba. The novel moves from China to Cuba to America and back to China in a narrative flow that is a hallmark of García's writing, as she intertwines the lives of her characters across geographies and between eras. While all three novels stand as individual narratives, they share common threads in García's quest to uncover the history of Cuba and its people.
In addition to her novels, García has published short stories and essays; edited anthologies of Cuban literature and Mexican and Mexican American literature; and written an introduction to a bilingual edition of the poems of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Her fourth novel, A Handbook to Luck, was published in April 2007 and showcases García's belief that a writer should continually experiment and defy artificial reader expectations: it explores the lives of displaced characters not only from Cuba, but also from Iran and El Salvador.
This interview took place by telephone in February and July 2006. García had recently completed A Handbook to Luck and had...