The rumba sways from side to side as the partying cuts across the Havana Malecon in a summer that makes you use your shirt sleeves to wipe away the sweat. From the eighth floor of a nearby building, a man can no longer hear the congas and the drunken shouts. His thoughts come with bursts of machine gun fire and the smell of a distant Africa where he lost a friend, sanity, and sleep.
Ariel is the main character in The Carnival and the Dead, the latest novel from Ernesto Santana, an authentic writer of shadows in a blacked-out city. For those of us who already know his writing — harsh, accurate and loaded with questions — this new novel reacquaints us with a daily venality now so common that we hardly see it anymore. He draws us into the trauma of those who were taken to distant lands to wage a war they didn’t understand, one that still, today, many of us cannot comprehend. It is a story of love, ghosts, HIV, and other characters in this drama of just 175 pages. A fiction of the dead who leave and return, of specters in their epaulets and medals, soaked in alcohol, needing to forget, urged to throw themselves into the void. In short, a book in the most intimate and raw style of the winner of this year’s “Novelas de Gaveta Frank Kafka” literary competition, Ernesto Santana.
Shortly, in our home on the fourteenth floor of a Yugoslav-style building that could well be in any part of Cuba, we will be presenting this horrifying and indispensable work. Neither triumphalism nor despair will be welcome.
December 3, 2010