49 pages 1 hour read

Ana Menéndez

In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2001

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Summary and Study Guide


In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd is Ana Menéndez’s 2001 collection of eleven linked short stories, largely set in Miami, which revolve around the experiences of Cuban immigrants and their American-born children. The New York Times named the collection a Notable Book of the Year, and the title story was awarded the Pushcart Prize for short fiction. The collection includes a diverse mix of realistic fiction, magical realism, and allegory; it explores themes of truth, memory, and storytelling, as well as loss, nostalgia, and dislocation, as they relate both to personal relationships and immigration.

Plot Summary

The first and last stories, “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” and “Her Mother’s House,” look at the experiences of first- and second-generation Cuban Americans. When the protagonist of the first story, Máximo, emigrates, he loses his professional identity and the respect it confers. He and his wife reinvent themselves as restaurateurs, but the sense of dislocation lingers. In his restaurant after work, he and his staff of fellow Cuban immigrants exchange stories about Cuba that begin hopefully but end in despair. They struggle to reconcile feelings of nostalgia for an idealized past with the realization that the ideal is an illusion.

Lisette, from whose point of view “Her Mother’s House” is told, arrives at a similar conclusion. A reporter who grew up in Miami, she jumps on the chance to travel to Cuba on a reporting trip. She believes that returning to Cuba will bring her to the beginning of her story, where she will be able to access an essential truth about her identity. Instead, her experience in Cuba provokes the same cocktail of hope and despair attested to by other immigrants.

Both Máximo and Lisette’s stories incorporate multiple timelines and locations, like the seven other realistic stories in the collection. In “Hurricane Stories,” a woman tells her lover the story of a hurricane she prepared for as a child, and recalls a hurricane story her father had told her. In “The Perfect Fruit,” middle-aged Matilde reflects on challenges in her early marriage, motherhood, and emigration as she addresses a current life difficulty. “Baseball Dreams” tells two related stories: In the first, Mirta describes her father’s boyhood, and in the second, a third-person narrator describes the day Mirta waited in vain for a visit from her father. “The Last Rescue” follows the anxiety and possible paranoia of Anselmo, Matilde’s son, who suspects his American wife of having an affair and obsessively replays past interactions. Characters from across the collection’s stories gather in “The Party” to welcome Joaquin Rivera, newly released from prison and soon to arrive in Miami, sharing stories about him to pass the time.

Although these stories are realistic, each of them also works on a meta-fictional level: questioning the reliability of memory, examining the function of storytelling, and charting the emotional toll of losing one’s home, whether that sense of home is a physical place (Cuba) or emotional one (a relationship).

The remaining four stories use fantastical elements and allegory for the same purpose. In “Why We Left,” a woman shattered by the loss of her baby increasingly loses touch with reality. “Story of a Parrot” and “Confusing the Saints” both incorporate fantastical elements to explore marriage and insecurity. Finally, “Miami Relatives” is a magical realist allegory about Cuban immigrants’ relationship to Castro.