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Book Review

Dreaming in Cuban by Christina Garcia has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Celia del Pino has lived her entire life in Cuba. The love of her life left her decades ago, but she continues to write letters to him. The man she did marry, Jorge del Pino, has died. During their marriage, he was emotionally distant, left Celia alone with his intolerable family for long stretches and institutionalized her for a time. They had three children, Lourdes, Felicia and Javier. This novel focuses primarily on the lives of the women in the del Pino family and reveals how tragedies, romances, family feuds and the Cuban revolution impacted their lives.

Lourdes, who owns two bakeries in New York, wants to be as American as possible. Her teenage daughter, Pilar, rebels against all her mother’s beliefs and wishes she could return to Cuba to be with Grandma Celia. Pilar even runs away at one point but only makes it to Florida.

Celia’s other daughter, Felicia, still lives nearby in Cuba. Felicia has three children, twin girls Luz and Milagro and their younger brother, Ivanito. Felicia sets her first husband, their father, on fire for his infidelity and cruelty. After some surreal life experiences and two additional marriages, Felicia dives more deeply into her worship of the gods. She even becomes a priestess in her ritualistic religion called Santeria. Luz and Milagro hate her and avoid her as much as possible. They secretly reconnect with their father, whose life has deteriorated since their mother burned his face and hands. Ivanito still doesn’t realize why the girls hate their mother so much. They set out to show him by reintroducing him to his father.

Celia’s son, Javier, returns to his mother when he’s alone and very ill. Once Celia nurses him back to health, he disappears again. Around this time, Celia finds she has a tumor. Doctors remove one of her breasts.

The ghost of Jorge del Pino regularly visits and advises his beloved Lourdes. When Felicia dies, the restless Pilar receives supernatural confirmation that she and her mother should go to Cuba. Lourdes hates the memories that resurface when she visits her homeland. Pilar is delighted to reconnect with her grandmother, as they once shared a spiritual telepathy and would speak to each other from a distance at night. Concerned for Ivanito’s future, Lourdes and Pilar help get the boy out of Cuba. Celia is left in Cuba and feels all alone but is confident Pilar will record the family story in her place.

Christian Beliefs

Pilar is allowed back into Catholic school after bad behavior because she says Catholics are always dying to forgive somebody. She mentions the images around the school that depict Christ as being harsh. She says she stopped praying the day one of the nuns told a classmate her baby brother was going to limbo since the parents didn’t have him baptized before he died. In childhood, Felicia was fascinated by the paraphernalia of faith more than in faith itself. She loved the beads, prayer cards and holy water, with which she would baptize the neighbor’s chickens. She hoped her mother wouldn’t burn in hell, as her sister suggested she would.

Other Belief Systems

Felicia is heavily involved in a religion called Santeria, a belief system influenced by African and Caribbean practices, along with Catholicism. Felicia worships many gods and participates in elaborate rituals involving sacrificing animals, drinking blood and cleansing oneself using various herbs and natural elements. She eventually becomes asantero, a priestess.

When Lourdes tells Pilar that Grandma Celia is an atheist, Pilar knows she wants to become one, too. Pilar says she doesn’t know when she stopped believing in God. It was more of a gradual process than a sudden realization. A shop owner gives Pilar herbs and a candle. He tells her to bathe in the herbs for nine consecutive nights so she can finish what she’s begun.

Pilar does this and has a vision about returning to Cuba. After the nine-day ritual, she also begins hearing bits of people’s thoughts and seeing pieces of the future. Pilar uses a Chinese chart with symbols to read the future.

Authority Roles

Lourdes’ father gives her wise advice from beyond the grave. Lourdes butts heads with Pilar on everything but publically defends her daughter when Pilar creates a piece of artwork that negatively reflects America. Felicia suffers from mental illness and seeks wholeness in romantic relationships. Her daughters are terrified of and repulsed by her. Celia strives to support her children, but they belittle her because of her participation in political activities with which they disagree.


The Lord’s name is used in vain, as are words including SOB, s---, d--n, h---, c--k, whore, a--, b--ch, b--tard and the f-word. A soldier rapes Lourdes and carves into her flesh. Another time, a clot slides down her thighs into a pool of blood at her feet as she loses a pre-born baby.

A dog is shot between the eyes. Felicia mixes lye and her own menstrual blood, then pours it over an enemy’s head. A boy jumps off a bridge to his death. A group of young boys holds Pilar at knife point. They pull off her shirt and take turns sucking on her breasts.


Lourdes was a proud virgin when she got married. Her appetite for sex with her husband increases as she gains weight. Pilar comments on the frequency with which her mom sexually attacks her father. Pilar pleasures herself in the tub. When her mother finds out, she beats her and forces her to work at the shop to clear her mind of filthy thoughts.

Pilar says islanders in New Guinea didn’t connect sex and pregnancy. They thought children floated on logs in the sky until pregnant women’s’ spirits claimed them. The girl Pilar meets on the bus says she doesn’t want a baby and is going to Florida to get an abortion.

Celia lies to doctors, telling them her father raped her. A soldier rapes Lourdes before battering her and carving something illegible into her belly. Felicia takes a job as an escort and has to undress in front of the owner. Her client tears at her cleavage.

Felicia starts dating Hugo. Some of their deviant, violent sexual activity is detailed. Later, Hugo physically abuses Felicia and gives her syphilis. Hugo’s children walk in on him and a prostitute. They describe his erect penis in their narratives.

Lourdes’ husband, Rufino, has an affair. Pilar sees him kissing another woman. One of Pilar’s boyfriends has a band named after a group of people he claims had orgies and drank a lot. He says they believed hedonism was the only way to get rid of their sins.

There are several mentions of men getting hard. Felicia pulls Ernesto, a virgin, into the back of her car and has sex with him. She and her third husband, Otto, have sex and fondle each other under their clothing on an amusement park ride. Pilar and her boyfriend, Ruben, speak Spanish when they have sex. One day, she walks in on him having sex with a big-chested Dutch exchange student. People’s genitals are sometimes referred to as their sex.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 to 18


Christina Garcia






Record Label



Alfred A. Knopf Inc. in conjunction with Random House Inc.


On Video

Year Published





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