"Good comes out of even the worst experiences" is a common expression in Cuba. Cristina García heard these words in Spanish: "No hay mal que por bien no venga," at least a dozen times a day when she first visited her maternal family members in Cuba.
Now a prominent novelist and journalist, García is the first guest to be featured in the University of Arizona Prose Reading Series this fall and will be here Wednesday to share a little bit of Cuba with the UA community.
"What I love is the incredible energy of the people," García said about Cuba. "And what I hate is that so much of that good energy is squandered on just survival."
Though born in Havana, García and her family hightailed it out of Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro came to power. Garcia was only 2 1/2 years old.
Only García's paternal side of the family left Cuba because, as owners of a cattle ranch, their land was taken under Castro's harshly enforced land policies.
"My mother's family remained in Cuba by choice and continue to be supportive of the revolution, so there was sort of a big split in the family," García said. "My parents are both on the same side of things, they're against the revolution."
However, García said she felt part of her identity was missing because she did not know half of her family. So, when she was in her 20s, García finally went to Cuba to meet the rest of her family.
"That experience is what I think initially got me interested in writing fiction," she said.
As a political journalist, García worked for Time Magazine as the bureau chief for Florida and the Caribbean.
Now, as a novelist, García's fascination with Cuba comes through in her fiction, including her first novel "Dreaming in Cuban."
It's an account about three generations of women who are torn apart by Castro's revolution and was nominated for the National Book Award in 1992.
Her other books include, "The Agüero Sisters," and, her latest novel, "Monkey Hunting," which traces the five generations of a Chinese family from China to Cuba and New York.
García grew up around several Chinese Cuban restaurants in New York, which inspired her to write "Monkey Hunting."
"I think it was sort of my growing interest in multiple-hyphenated individuals and giving birth to one," she said. "I have a 12-year-old daughter who's part everything. She's part Cuban, part Guatemalan, part Japanese, part Russian-Jewish. So, yes, I'm interested in identity, and it's more complicated than the identities we're used to talking about."
Though her stories are fictional, García said she still calls upon her journalistic writing habits to write her novels.
"Just like in journalism, I think all your work pinches on the smallest of your details, so to me, it's essential to get them right," she said. "So, whether it's true or not, you still have to sort of create a narrative that is believable and you do that (by) building detail by detail."
García is also the editor of "¡Cubanísmo!: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature," and said that selecting works was a difficult process.
"It's such a rich literature to choose from and for every selection you make, there's 10 you're leaving out and you feel tremendous remorse about that," she said. "But I do feel good about what's there and I think it's a very nice representation of the scope and sort of the different sensibilities working in Cuba and Cubans outside of Cuba."
Even as a fan of Cuban literature, García said that she cannot choose a favorite Cuban writer or literary work by a Cuban writer.
"I didn't actually grow up reading Cuban writers at all," she said. "I didn't actually read them until I was in my 20s and 30s."
Instead, García grew up reading Franz Kafka, Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy.
"I loved Virginia Woolf when I was a teenager," she said.
Obviously, García's tastes have changed. As for Cuba's future, García said it is unclear, but the people of Cuba must come first.
"I don't have anything really to say except that I think that the people of Cuba should decide it's future," she said.
"I don't think it should be decided in Miami, I don't think it should be decided in the White House. Once you've been living there and know the kind of suffering and enduring, you're the ones who have to decide their own future."
Cristina García will be reading in the Modern Languages Auditorium on Wednesday at 8 p.m. Admission is free and copies of García's books will be available for sale.