WELCOME TO MIAMI, DOCTOR LEAL READING GUIDE
René Vázquez Díaz was born in Caibarién, Cuba, but has lived in Sweden since 1975. Welcome to Miami, Doctor Leal, won the 2007 Radio France Internationale's Juan Rulfo Prize. His books have been translated into English, French, Italian, Swedish and Finnish.
SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL
Welcome to Miami, Doctor Leal recounts the experiences and reflections of Doctor Leal, a distinguished Cuban-American surgeon, who flies from Sweden, his adopted country, back to the Miami of his childhood to attend his brother's funeral. From the moment he enters the Miami airport, Doctor Leal is caught up in the complicated and suffocating realities of current U.S.-Cuban relationships, the personal politics of the exile community in Miami, and his aging mother's startling revelations about the Leal family. Paced by a noir-like plot and geopolitical intrigue, the novel has been praised for its atmospheric evocation of Miami's Cuban culture: pork rinds, papaya shakes, soft-hued buildings, and hardened Castro-haters.
This reading group guide is provided by Small Press Distribution to Engage as You Age as part of the "I Remember Project" to support reading groups for seniors in Marin Country. SPD's "I Remember Project" is generously supported by the Marin Community Foundation.
- Many of the characters, tensions and events in this novel are strongly influenced by historical events that took place forty years ago, specifically the Cuban Revolution. Do you remember that event? What comes up for you when you think about Cuba and Fidel Castro? If you were alive during the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban Missile Crisis, how did those events appear to you at the time? How do you feel about them now?
- When the author takes his characters to the "La Cuba De Ayer" festival, he is clearly criticizing expatriate Cubans for their misplaced nostalgia for pre-revolutionary Cuba. Doctor Leal's mother, for instance, begins to remember going to upscale Havana stores she, in fact, "never set eyes on in her whole life." Do you think feelings of nostalgia can be easily misplaced? How do you hang on to memories and treasure them without letting them warp your sense of what really happened?
- In this novel the violence of American society is occasionally glimpsed through bits of news, or through the ramblings of Doctor Leal's mother who is "drugged by excessive TV." Do you see the media's focus on violence as contributing to that violence?
- The author, Rene Vazquez Diaz, has said that his goal is to "caress the scars of the Cuban people, inventing literary destinies that help me understand who we are and what has happened between us." Do you think he succeeds in caressing those scars in this novel? To what extent does his story reopen those scars?
- In the novel, Milena repeatedly makes the case that she is in love with Doctor Leal, but Doctor Leal speculates that "no one falls in love with anyone after a few days of contact." What did you think of that? Do you think people can fall in love after a few days of contact?
- This book, which is highly critical of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, was published before Obama lifted some of Bush's restrictions on travel to Cuba for certain Americans. What do you think of US policy towards Cuba?