Prize Winning Doors / Miguel Iturría Savón

As an unexpected Christmas present, Doors to the Imagination: New Cuban Literature arrived in Havana last week. The volume compiles the prize winners and honorable mentions from the Voices of Change writing contest, sponsored in mid-2008 by the Independent Libraries of Cuba Project.

Although the formal presentation has not yet been made,a dozen copies circulated among some of the authors, who will not see their texts in the network of bookstores and libraries in this country by order of the censor issued by the Ministry of Culture and its monopoly the Cuban Institute of the Book, which hampers the insular literature, disconnecting the creators from their natural readers and those of alternative voices.

Doors to the Imagination is an anthology of 412 pages, prepared by the Independent Libraries and El Cambio Publishers in Miami, Florida. It begins with a note from the editor, the Prologue of the essayist Carlos A. Montaner, the Presentation of Gisela Delgado Sablon, texts in the genres of winning essay, letter, testimony, poetry, short story and novel, the most beautiful selection of acrylics on canvas by Armando Valladares, illustrator of the cover, and the collection of works art provided by Arturo F. Mosquera, who provides the data of the artists on pages 381-407.

Save for the elimination of several essays and testimonies to fit the limits of the volume, and the details that about the authors regarding their written offerings, this is a worthy compilation of literary, artistic and typographic material in which converge freedom expression and the commitment to the insular reality, noticeable in the essays, letters, testimonies and to a lesser extent, in poetry and narrative, whose tensions pulse in the creation.

Montaner warns that this “other” literature has “fine essays about the future, such as those of Manuel Cuesta (an intelligent reflection on the necessary changes and the need for institutions to support them) and Julio A. Aleaga Pesant, referring to the phenomenon of globalization and technological innovation … Also … Lucas Garve, who travels to the past and delves elegantly into the Cuban press in the late nineteenth century to find out how and why Julian del Casal, who was never in Paris … could comment on the French painting of Gustave Moreau … “

The essays culminate with Francisco Blanco Sanabria, author of The Cineclub Max Linder, and Alberto Mendez with The Ostrich Syndrome in Cuban culture. While the epistles, polemical and incisive, summon officials and question statements and problems affecting the country such as the Charter of Raul Bolivar Martinez to Eliades Acosta, former Head of Culture of the Communist Party; that of Julio A. Rojas Portal to former Minister Felipe Perez Roque and that of Leannes Acosta Imbert to Mariela Castro Espin.

Two letters differ from the placement but link the political with personal introspection: the Testimonial Letter of former Captain of Counterintelligence Ernesto Borges Pérez to his mother (Yvonne Perez) and Letter to my Father, Maria del Carmen Pino. Both written behind bars, from which they expose the intimate and family tragedies caused by the Cuban military regime’s repression.

The rhythm increases with the testimonies, accentuated in the poems and multiplied in the narrative, whose stories and novels are the pinnacle of the work of imaginative flight, architecture, composition and diversity of voices and styles that coined the stories.

They excel in the testimony of Guillermo Fariñas Hernández, who takes up his experiences of war in Angola with a realistic and tragic sense; as Sedeño Nereida Perez moves the reader with The Story of My Life, which chronicles the challenges of her family from Communist repression; a theme addressed in turn by Orestes Suárez Torres in 25 Kilometers of Terror and Nilda Leyva Gonzalez in Danger, Don’t Read about harassment from State Security against a doctor who read the novels of the exiled writer Zoe Valdes.

In poetry quality prevails despite the difference in styles and the creative gap between the writers, doomed between memory, history, love, the city and other goblins and ghosts embodied in the verses. The poems of Joaquín Cabeza de León excel, he won first prize with Crystals of Memory; followed by Masks and Rituals for an Empty Curtain by Miguel Iturria Savon; Foot on the Line, by Luis Felipe Rojas; different verses from former political prisoner Ricardo González Alfonso; The Price of Being Alive (Marlon Faustino Guerra), Isla (Francisco Conde) and A Woman and a Thousand Abysses, by Maria del Carmen Pino.

The prize-winning narrators in Voices of Change look at the world from its environment. Memory, the existential city, the daily absurdity and loneliness of man before by the active power of the imagination of Michel Enriquez Perea, author of Mutiny; Wilmer Hidalgo Oliva (The Night that Jesus was Mistaken in Havana), Juan Gonzalez Febles (Nonato Talks to the Dead), Yasser Iturria Medina (The Handsome Don’t Drink Soup), Alfonso Odelín Torna (Page 66) and Luis Cino Hernandez (Claudio).

To these great stories is added the novella Archaic Shadows by Yasser Iturria, who shares his passion for scientific research with literature. Archaic Shadows is an experimental piece without concessions to the reader, an unquestionable narrative pulse and disturbing fictitious game.

In Doors to the Imagination literary texts alternate with nearly one hundred illustrations by Cuban artists who enrich and elevate the value of the anthology.

Originally published in Cubanet.

January 3 2012