Cuba: ‘The Only Eastern Country in the Heart of the West’

Jorge Ferrer presents ‘Between Russia and Cuba’ in Barcelona. Against memory and oblivion.

Jorge Ferrer and Iván de la Nuez, at the presentation of ‘Between Russia and Cuba. Against memory and oblivion’, in La Central de Barcelona / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yaiza Santos, Barcelona, 17 May 2024 — The history of the link between Cuba and the Soviet Union, and what this meant for the world in the years of the Cold War, is well known. However, until now no one had related the intimate implications it had for several generations of Cubans. Especially those young people who, sent to study in Moscow, witnessed glasnost and Perestroika, waited for the change to be echoed in their country and ended up exiled.

The task of explaining this “very strange link,” between a Caribbean island and the icy lands of the USSR, in the words of Ricardo Cayuela, director of the Ladera Norte publishing house, was far surpassed by Jorge Ferrer in Between Russia and Cuba, Against Memory and Oblivion, which he presented this Thursday at the La Central bookstore in Barcelona.

The essayist and art critic Iván de la Nuez, resident in Spain for more than 30 years and presenter of the event, described the book as “huge, tremendous, extraordinary,” going beyond narrating the “life that every Cuban could have had.” The three lives – related in the three parts that make up the volume, are that of the grandfather Federico, a police officer under Batista exiled in the United States in 1968, when Jorge Ferrer was a baby; that of the father Jorge, a preeminent apparatchik at the National Bank of Cuba; and that of himself. In reality, says De la Nuez, the three lives are “at least 21”: seven, like cats, for each one.

But this is not, as it might seem, a memoir – and hence the subtitle – but rather an unclassifiable hybrid, as the author claims he likes to consider himself. “There is a memory gap in the world we live in,” he said at one point during the presentation. De la Nuez elaborated on the same idea, saying that “memory is often made of lies, and this is a book that seeks the truth.”

This is not, as it might seem, a memoir – and hence the subtitle – but rather an unclassifiable hybrid, as the author claims he likes to consider himself

For this purpose he undertook arduous research about his grandfather, his father and his own life in Moscow, where he arrived with his father as a teenager. It is in that part where he hit a wall, Iván de la Nuez emphasized: he wanted to get his file from the psychiatric hospital where his father forcibly confined him at the age of 16 for drug problems, but, in post-Soviet Russia he found that “that file is not open.” In that building, larger than the Kremlin, not only the mentally ill but also dissidents, like the poet Joseph Brodsky himself, were punished.

Both Cubans spoke about the term hypernormalization, from the Russian Alexei Yurchak, to refer to that moment in the USSR before its fall, and what it meant to live the socialist “experiment.” That “life without intimacy or seclusion” left room, however, for secrets, just like those that Ferrer tries to bring to light from his family.

Between Russia and Cuba is also, De la Nuez said, the book “by a translator” – as Ferrer is for authors such as Vasili Grossman, Svetlana Aleksievich, Iván Bunin or María Stepanova – “a book that translates the world for us” and aims for an impact. The experience of the Cuban in exile, like them, cannot be, in the opinion of the art critic, subordinated to the past. “If we spent all the time saying where we came from and denouncing it, we would have no way out.”

Faced with the idea of ​​Cuba that is usually held outside its borders, of a certain multiculturalism and folklore, De la Nuez indicates, in short, that Ferrer is right in finding the true uniqueness of the Island, “which no other country in the world has”: to be “the only Eastern country in the heart of the West.”


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