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Category Archive for 'Cuba'

Cuban author Legna Rodríguez Iglesias, a poet, fiction writer, and playwright, challenges the reader of this experimental novel by developing her novel in fifteen overlapping stories, narrated by an unusual assortment of people. The book also comes with its own style, and a set of themes and characters which do not match what I’ve come to expect from international fiction in translation. A Cuban by birth, the author sets many of these stories in Cuba, but the narrator leaves Cuba for Miami in one story, and in another, “Sinai,” the main character is talking to God at “Mt. Sinai.” The “elephant in the room,” throughout, is a French bulldog, which, despite the title, plays a surprisingly small role for most of the book. Some of the poems which introduce the chapters refer to a French bulldog, but the narratives soon stop mentioning it. As readers approach the end of the book, they may even question why the French bulldog is part of the title at all. Then, suddenly, it all makes sense, as a bulldog sets the characters and their lives into perspective. Unique.

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Setting his novel in Punta Gotica, the poorer side of Cienfuegos, a city on the south side of Cuba, author Marcial Gala, creates a grim novel of the non-stop action in this city, while, at the same time, breathing life into people, societies, and places new to many readers. Often the narrative feels as if Marcial Gala himself, a resident of this city, is “hanging out,” invisibly, with some of the characters here, even as he is telling their stories, and on several occasions one character even recommends that another character go see “Marcial” for some kind of help with an issue. As a result, the author creates the feeling that he is part of the action, creating his own story in Cienfuegos within the characters’ more objective stories, despite the serious difficulties that many of these characters get into on their own or create for others. Unconscionable, often life-changing difficulties, are drawn realistically, rather than intuitively or emotionally, as the affected characters react to traumas they have experienced in their daily lives. Casual murder, innocent cannibalism, the betrayal of lovers for cash, and a general mood of prevailing evil, which even infects the ghosts of some of the dead, make this a novel in which anything can – and often does – take place without warning.

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Thirty-one years have passed since author Cristina Garcia’s first trip to Germany, and she has just returned to Berlin for the first time since then. Because she is fascinated by some of the people she meets there, she creates a “Visitor” as a stand-in for herself acting as the third person narrator of this book – not telling the stories of these people, so much as introducing them and then allowing each of the thirty-five characters she features the freedom to tell their own individual stories. As she “listens” to these stories, she and the reader share the same vantage point – and the stories come to life in unique ways, some of them so unusual that most readers will become spellbound, wondering why they never thought to ask the questions about postwar life in Germany that these characters are answering without being asked. Though the individual stories are unique, brilliant in their execution, and enlightening for the reader – even readers who have read dozens of books about postwar Germany and the generation after that – Cristina Garcia performs magic by opening up even more new threads and suggesting dozens of issues which most of us have not yet even thought to explore. On the top of my Favorites List for the year so far.

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In this story which seems to be a memoir, Sanchez Guevara offers a short, often poetic, description of the life of one black man as he faces the interminable boredom life in Cuba in the late 1980s – early 1990s – the lack of privacy, the “repetitive cycle of routine,” and “repetition after repetition of the scratched record of time and grime.” His use of “scratched record” imagery, over and over again – forty repetitions of this image in the space of ninety-four short pages – actually creates within the reader’s own life the same boredom and stultifying lack of variety which the main character feels, and the reader soon begins to feel controlled by some of the same kinds of forces that the author himself dealt with in the overwhelming tedium of a life over which he had little control. The speaker reminisces about his father, his upbringing, his father’s lack of interest in anything to do with the arts, his own technical studies, his record as a model student, always revealing aspects of life which he noted in Cuba at the time. He discovers reading as an escape, and later music, and then the theatre, but every now and then “he wonders what he’s done to deserve this – to have tastes so alien to the tropics and yet live here…” A sexual encounter with a Russian woman leads to his arrest and torture, though he does not know why, and he wonders, yet again, about the point of life. The conclusion reconciles the thirty-three scenes/revolutions of the record and provides an answer to the speaker’s quest.

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It is 1963, as the novel opens, and the devastating Hurricane Flora, “bigger than all of Cuba,” is now lashing the island, having already caused devastation throughout Haiti, where it killed five thousand people. Main character Maria Sirena, age eighty-two, has been forcibly evacuated from her small seaside house by Ofelia, one of Castro’s soldiers, who takes her and seven other women to safety on the top floor of Casa Diego Velazquez, the sixteenth century home of the first governor of Cuba, now an historical museum. For the couple of days, Maria Sirena rides out the storm with the officer, Ofelia, and seven other women, keeping her companions occupied with stories from her own life and the lives of her parents and grandparents as they live through Cuba’s various wars for independence from the late nineteenth century up to 1963. She has much experience as a story-teller, having been for many years a lector, a reader hired by a cigar factory to read stories to the workers so that they will not become bored during their repetitious hand-work as they make cigars. Author Chantel Acevedo, a second-generation Cuban American, wisely keeps her focus on the lives of “ordinary” people like Maria Sirena and her fellow guests of the Casa – hardworking folks, often poor, who have struggled all their lives – showing how they survive and what they have to do to live. It is through this personal focus, rather than any detailed historical focus, that almost a hundred years of modern Cuban revolutionary history emerge for the reader.

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