Whereas Garcia’s previous novels have explored the rifts between Cubans who remain on the island and those who immigrate to the U.S., this latest novel opens with a Chinese protagonist who immigrates to (rather than from) Cuba, is bought into slavery, and toils for years on a sugar plantation.
According to Garcia:
The Chinese have been [in Cuba] since the 1840s and have contributed enormously to Cuban culture and cuisine and even language. There are a million expressions that tip their hat to the Chinese presence in Cuba, and there’s even a little instrument called the coroneta china, the Chinese horn or Chinese coronetâ€”I don’t know what you’d call it in Englishâ€”that is used in parades. And the Chinese also participated in the various wars for independence. They were a pillar of social and cultural life in Havana. So Chinese-Cuban subculture is actually a huge part of the island that most people are not even aware of outside of Cuba. In Cuba they take it for granted, but they haven’t really analyzed how much it’s a part of them.