14ymedio, Havana, 27 August 2018 — Journalist Reinaldo Escobar’s work, La Grieta*, won the 2018 Iberianamerican Verbum Novel Prize. The results of the contest were announced this Monday and its organizers reported that 507 authors participated and there were five finalist.
Escobar, editor-in-chief of 14ymedio, was awarded the prize for “the narrative maturity with which he tackles the chronicle of disenchantment for an entire generation of Cubans,” and “the subtle irony that manages to raise a smile and the delicate game of mirrors that fuses reality and fiction.”
“I’ve been working for a quarter of a century on this novel, writing and rewriting its pages,” Escobar said, on hearing of the award. “It is a testimony that I hope will transcend me as an individual and represent thousands of Cubans who lived similar experiences.”
La Grieta tells the story of Antonio Martínez, a young man who entered the School of Journalism at the end of the ’60s with the illusion of entering the profession during a time of new airs of freedom. Two decades later he ends up expelled from the newspaper where he works and stigmatized as an enemy who will not be allowed to exercise his profession in any other media.
The novel’s first typed version, without copies, was completed in 1994 but was confiscated by State Security at the Havana airport when Escobar tried to take it out of the country. A quarter of a century later, the novel is seeing the light reconstructed by memory and enriched by the author’s experience.
The jury of the Verbum Prize has emphasized that it is “an entertaining and intense work, which a whole generation can identify which and in which younger readers will discover the chronicle of an epoch of fallacious epics.”
The steps through which the plot takes shape begin with the ins and outs of the ideological struggle between fundamentalists and liberals in the university environment, the sanction the lead character was subjected to in a process of political cleansing, his later involvement in a prestigious magazine that worked to sugarcoat the image of the country for external consumption, and the enthusiasm for glasnost and perestroika that leads him to try to push journalism along more open paths from a newspaper of national circulation, to a point of direct confrontation where he finally stumbles against the insurmountable wall of intolerance.
Parallel to the events of the protagonist’s professional life, where at each step he discovers the enormous distance between reality and official discourse, Martínez maintains his own romantic utopia that leads him to seek, over and over again, a personal chimera.
The author portrays a part of that generation that jumped from adolescence to adulthood in the midst of the maelstrom brought by the Revolution. The illusion, the doubt, the skepticism, the frustration, follow one another in a sequence where it is difficult to determine the exact point of rupture, that insurmountable crack (grieta) where the deepest convictions are recomposed.
The jury that selected the winner comprised Fernando Rodríguez Lafuente (Spain, president), Pedro Juan Gutiérrez (Cuba), Sara Mañero Rodicio (Spain), José Antonio Martínez Climent (Spain, winner of the 2017 Iberoamerican Verbum Novel Award) and Luis Rafael (Cuba-Spain).
Among the finalists, along with La Grieta, was La Dantesca vida de Philip Orsbridge, by Alfredo Nicolás Lorenzo (Cuba), La hora del silencio, by Cristina Feijóo (Argentina), Los paraguas y el sol, by Enrique Pérez Díaz (Cuba) and Fóllale, Manco, by Juan Sebastián Rojas (Colombia).
Translator’s note: “Grieta” is a word that can be translated as crack, fracture, rift, chasm, fissure, breach and many synonyms of these words. Not having read the book, this translator hesitates to pick one to represent the title in English.
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