The first weekend of February 2018 saw quite a few articles related to Cuba and Cuban writers in the newspapers perused by this blogger.
La Vanguardia had an obituary on Fidel Ángel Castro Díaz-Balart, called “Fidelito” [little Fidel] (1949-2018), Fidel Castro’s oldest son who suffered from depression and took his life the previous week [Wikipedia article].
“Babelia,” El País‘ culture supplement, presented three books on contemporary Cuba and/or written by Cubans:
Carlos Manuel Álvarez Rodríguez, La tribu. Retratos de Cuba [The tribe: portraits from Cuba], 2017, 264 p.
Carlos Manuel Álvarez is a young Cuban writer with an immense talent, and this book is the living proof of it. La tribu is an intimate journey among the Cubans during a time of dramatic change –from 2014 to 2016–, beginning with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, and ending with the death of the historic leader of the revolution, Fidel Castro.
[There is] no better guide than C.M. Álvarez to tell us the stories of some who lived –and survived– the great revolutionary epic that comes to an end now. There are the adventures and the calvaries of some Cubans who leave the island in search of fortune in the north; the life of a great poet who has hardly been published and who comes to terms with the fact that he will die unknown; the daily life of a former “Tropicana” dancer who lives in a dump; a mother’s odyssey in her efforts to recover the body of her daughter who committed suicide in a foreign country; the moving return of a Cuban baseball player [José Contreras] who fled, was recruited by the Yankees, and who returns to visit his people and his neighborhood after a lot of years.
If one loves Cuba –or if one is Cuban and carries it in one’s blood–, one will have to read La tribu, because there is some kind of magic on its pages. But it’s not an invented magic. There is the Cuba that really exists. There is the lasting Cuba, the loved one, the sad one and the abhorred one, that of the bolero verses and now of the reggaeton, that one that is for ever, if one likes it or not. The readers will realize again, that is if they ever doubted it, that despite all the Cubans have got something special, that despite all, they have got a future ahead, in the same way that without a doubt the author of this book has got one.
Jon Lee Anderson
The review by Iván de la Nuez is not as enthusiastic as Anderson:
… a compendium of chronicles that prefers the consequences of the acts to the causes that encouraged them. […] These chronicles of the thaw prefer, in front of the derision of the doctrines, the meat of the facts (with the virtues and some defect that sometimes come with the preference for the bowels).
Leila Guerriero, ed., Cuba en la encrucijada [Cuba at the crossroads], 2017, 180 p.
A book of Cuban chronicles by twelve of the most prestigious journalists and writers of our times –Carlos Manuel Álvarez, Jon Lee Anderson, Vladimir Cruz, Iván de la Nuez, Patricia Engel, Patricio Fernández, Rubén Gallo, Francisco Goldman, Wendy Guerra, Abraham Jiménez Enoa, Leonardo Padura and Mauricio Vicent– that encompasses politics and art, music and baseball, present and past, and that offers to us an exceptional snapshot of the particular crossroads at which the Cuban society stands.
« Of all the questions that need to be asked by journalism, there is only one, if we talk about Cuba, that can be answered easily: where. Everybody knows –more or less– where Cuba is. For all the others –what is Cuba, who are the Cubans, how is Cuba, when did Cuba start to become what it is, why is Cuba like it is, and different variations and combinations of the same– there are not only no easy answers but everyone seems to have theirs.
The twelve texts constituting this book try to get away from the most topical reductionisms and tell the country from the most dangerous, and for the same most interesting, territory of doubt and contradiction. Telling Cuba –like narrating the Normandy landings or the fall of the Berlin Wall– is telling History with a capital “h”: an ambitious task. But, in the strafed stuttering of the present times, these are some attempts.»
In his review, Javier Rodríguez Marcos calls this book “a gold mine”.
Leonardo Padura, La transpariencia del tiempo [Time’s transparency], 2018, 448 p.
Mario Conde who is about to turn 60, and who feels unusually in crisis and more sceptical towards his country than normally, receives unexpectedly an assignment by an old friend from high school, Bobby, who asks him for help to recover the statue of a black virgin that was stolen from him. Conde discovers that this piece is a lot more valuable than was told to him, and his friend has to confess to him that it comes from his Spanish grandfather who, fleeing from the Civil War, brought it over from a hermitage in the Catalan Pyrenees. In Havana’s underworld, Conde finds a suspect that has just been murdered. With the assassination of another accomplice, Conde discovers an unexpected plot of gallery owners and foreign collectors interested in the medieval carving, and he inevitably stumbles on Havana’s homicide squad. But, in interspersed chapters, La transparencia del tiempo also narrates the statue’s century-long epic, a black virgin brought from the last crusade to a hermitage in the Pyrenees by somebody called Antoni Barral, and there will be a different Antoni Barral who saves it and who finds himself forced to embark as a stowaway on the way to Havana.
from J. Ernesto Ayala-Dip’s review:
The formula that gave him a brilliant result in Herejes [Heretics] now turns tiresome and unnecessary. The novel’s focus of interest is blurred every time that the readers need to change the perspective, without this contributing anything to the core story. … in this trance, Padura lets his detective too lost in time.
On the occasion of Leonardo Padura’s presence at the crime novel festival “BCNegra”, La Vanguardia interviewed the author and asked him about the current situation on the island. Here are some excerpts that show quite a bleak picture:
[Question: Why is the generation of the “revolution’s puppies” frustrated?]
… To our broken dreams are added our children who leave us, I would say this is the case in about 90% among my friends, and additionally we have our nonagenarian parents we need to help because they receive pensions of about ten dollars a month.
[Q: You’ve said “moral collapse”…]
In the 1990s the people began to develop survival strategies. There imposed itself the anything goes. There resurfaced prostitution, there appeared drugs, and the black market turned into the only market. The society suffered an enormous los of values that were ancestral. There spread the lack of respect for the rights of the others and being a rogue as a form of living. The word decent, so important before, disappeared from the Cuban vocabulary.
[Q: In that present, that you situate in 2014, you show a marked tendency towards vulgarity in Havana. …]
Reggaeton, all noise, is an effect, not a cause. It’s the consequence of this lack of values and the moral degradation that we talked about. It represents the fall to the lowest point of Cuban music, which is a universal reference. The state tries to stop and to stigmatize this no-music. But the concerts of Cuban reggaeton artists, by the way promoted through social networks, fill up. It sucks, but the truth is that reggaeton has become the soundtrack of the Cuban present. […]
And then there will be Raul’s succession. I believe there will be continuity. What one doesn’t know is how long it will last.
[The Cuban president, Raul Castro, announced that he will step down on April 19, 2018.; cf. e.g. this ABC News piece (text and video).]
Padura also mentioned that it is not easy for Cuban readers to find his books there. There is a lack of paper, and probably a lack of interest by the official spheres…
There are two previous posts on Leonardo Padura from June and November 2015.
Among the authors mentioned above, Wendy Guerra is also a well-known and social media savvy commentarist from inside on the daily life in Cuba (Wikipedia article).
SOURCE: Sexto Piso (publisher La tribu); Debate (Penguin Random House, publisher Guerriero); Tusquets (Planeta, publisher Padura); “Babelia,” El País, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 5 + 7 [printed edition]; Fernando García interviewing Leonardo Padura, La Vanguardia, Feb. 3, 2018, pp. 30-31 [printed edition].