2022, a Fertile Year Outside the Island for Books Linked to Cuba

The year was characterized by a growing interest among international readers in Cuba, its situation and its history. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 January 2022 — The return of Detective Mario Conde, the adventures of Federico García Lorca in Havana and a fast-paced essay on the concentration camps on the Island marked the route of the Cuban book in 2022. 14ymedio proposes an account of the best titles from authors residing inside and outside the country, published in a year that was characterized by the growing interest of international readers in Cuba, its situation and its history.

A new crime novel by Leonardo Padura, Personas decentes [Decent People] (Tusquets) was on the best-seller lists in Spain for several weeks. The uncertainty and tension of the thaw between Cuba and the United States is the scenario to which Mario Conde, the now-aged former policeman of Padura, returns.

The same Catalan publishing house launched this December Cómo conocí al sembrador de árboles [How Met the Tree Planter], a collection of stories in which Abilio Estévez offers the “testimony of a failure.” The book, according to its editors, aims to “respond to the secret of a country in danger of extinction.”

The effort to recount the Island also encourages the characters of Retratos en la orilla [Portraits on the Shore] (Artistas Martínez), by Daenerys Machado Vento, named as one of the best young storytellers in Spanish by Granta magazine. The pieces of this volume deal with reconstructing the stories of a generation – that of those born in the 80s – dispersed in exile or stuck in the country.

The panorama of the essay has been more fruitful than that of any other genre, undoubtedly led by the reissue of the formidable Mito y revuelta [Myth and Revolt ] (Turner), by Ernesto Hernández Busto. Through nine portraits of such controversial authors as Ezra Pound, Vasili Rozánov and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Hernández Busto enters the territory of “reactionary” writers, considered cursed or controversial by critics.

Although published in 2021, this year readers were finally able to access El árbol de las revoluciones [The Tree of Revolutions](Turner), an essay by Rafael Rojas on the cartography of Latin American revolts and the influence of the Mexican and Cuban revolutions on the region.

In El cuerpo nunca olvida [The Body Never Forgets] (Rialta), the killer essayist Abel Sierra meticulously exposes the horror of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) and its imprint on Cuban history. It is a “detained investigation” – according to Rojas – of one of the biggest “national traumas” after 1959.

Why didn’t Severo Sarduy return to Cuba? This is the question posed by researcher Oneyda González in Severo secreto [Secret Severo] (Rialta), a kind of choral biography of this canonical author that reproduces the interviews made for the documentary of the same name released in 2016.

Eros y política (debajo de la mesaEros and Politics [Under the Table], by Juan Abreu, passes the knife over the political and journalistic fauna of Spain, the country where he lives in exile, with devastating vignettes of figures such as José María Aznar, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Pablo Echenique and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo. Abreu’s prose dilutes the border between the public and the private, and enriches the biography of the portrayed with his fulminating style. Hilarious and profound is also Nuestra hambre en La Habana [Our Hunger in Havana], where Enrique del Risco – in the words of Yoani Sánchez – “crudely portrays the national obsession around the dinner plate and casseroles.”

Living in Rome since his youth, maestro Alvar González-Palacios, a rara avis in Cuban essays about art, published this year Sólo sombras [Just Shadows] (Elba), a group of biographical sketches of characters as disparate as Borges, Karen Blixen, Cavafis and María Félix.

The autobiography of academician Roberto González Echevarría, Memorias del archivo [Memories from the Archive] (Renacimiento), addresses the life trajectory of this Cuban professor at Yale University and his relationship with intellectuals such as Alejo Carpentier, Severo Sarduy and Harold Bloom.

The actor Actor Alexis Valdés published, through Vintage Publishing, El miedo nos hizo fuertes [Fear Made us Strong], about his hard childhood in Havana and the personal reasons for his career.

The thirty years of the publication of Antes que anochezca [Before Night Falls] (Tusquets), by Reinaldo Arenas, motivated the launch of a commemorative edition – with a new cover and revised text – of one of the most moving books in Cuban literature.

Todo Paradiso [All Paradise], a volume that brings together the novels Paradiso and Oppiano Licario, by José Lezama Lima, with a foreword by José Prats Sariol, is from Verbum, one of the large publishing companies of this year. The book fulfills the Lezamian project of merging both stories into parts of the same story.

That same publishing house, based in Madrid, brings together Toda la poesía (1994-2021) [All the Poetry] by the novelist Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, an undoubtedly indispensable text as a complement to the narrative work of the matancero writer.

During the Guadalajara Book Fair, Anagrama announced that a Cuban, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, had won its Chronicle Award with the book Los intrusos, [The Intruders], a “mixture of reportage, testimony, profile and memory” about the “long encampment” of the San Isidro Movement in 2020.

Among the foreign writers who dealt with the Cuban theme this year, it is worth highlighting the Barcelona native Victor Amela, author of Si yo me pierdo [If I Get Lost] (Destino), a novel about the days he spent on Federico García Lorca Island. The author of Poeta en Nueva York [Poet in New York] spent three months in Cuba in 1930, which he defined as “the happiest of my life.” Esclava de la libertad [Slave of Freedom] (Grijalbo), a historical novel by Idelfonso Falcones, reflects on the slave phenomenon of the nineteenth century in Cuba and its return in later times.

Cuban Privilege (Cambridge University Press), On U.S. Foreign Policy towards the Island, by academic Susan Eckstein, motivated a heated controversy during her presentation in Miami, in addition to several protests in the vicinity of the International University of Florida, where it was debated by politician Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat.

The academic reflection in the United States about the Island deserved the Pulitzer Prize for Ada Ferrer, with Cuba: An American History, which also addresses the link between the two countries from their founding to the successive thaws between Havana and Washington.

About the essay Locura nuclear: la crisis de los misiles en Cuba [Nuclear Madness: the Missile Crisis in Cuba] (Turner), by historian Serhii Plokhy, (born in Russia, grew up in Ukraine and now lives in the United States), Cuban Jorge Ferrer has written that it is not only “the most comprehensive study” of the warlike tension between Cuba, the United States and the Soviet Union in 1962, but a kind of instruction manual  about “how to negotiate on the edge of the cliff.”

Knowing Russia better, the roots of its conflict with Ukraine and its relationship with the Island has led to numerous approaches to the culture of that country. Jorge Ferrer himself translated this year, for the Acantilado publishing house, the exceptional novel En memoria de la memoria [In Memory of Memory],by the writer María Stepánova, which explores “the trail of a life, the repository of a century of existence in Russia.”

Translated by Regina Anavy


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.