American Must Reads: The Agüero Sisters
Life is too short to read everything. It may even be too short to major in american studies, history, or English. This column, brought to you by professors in american studies, history, and English, highlights the books you simply cannot let pass, whatever your major. Start your list!
by: Dr. Cristina Rodriguez Assistant Professor of English
We often think of the past as a place: unchanging, concrete. But in The Agüero Sisters, the past is always present, in the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and where we come from.
History is merely the accumulation of different memories, and “even the worst of lies, if sustained, devolve into hard, bright facts” (273). Cristina García uses multiple narrators to cobble together the past of the Agüero family, beginning in Cuba long before the revolution. One sister moves to Miami with the first wave of Cuban refugees, part of an exile community mired in nostalgia for their lost country, accessible now only in memories. The other sister remains in Communist Cuba, haunted by her family’s legacy. United by their desire to know their mother’s past—and at odds about everything else—Constancia and Reina return to Cuba to track down her history.
Yet they learn that “we hold only partial knowledge of each other. We’re lucky to get even a shard of the dark, exploding whole.” The narrative moves from Cuba, to Miami, to Spain, and back again, showing us the island before and after the revolution, as well as the “golden exiles” of Cuban-American Miami.
García’s novel captures the specificity of the immigrant experience, tracing the importance of memory and place, while also asking the reader to consider universal questions: is the past ever really over? Can we ever get beyond memory to the truth? How fully can we ever know another person? And how fully can we ever know ourselves?