‘The Main Achievement of the Cuban Revolution Is Its Exile’

Writer Jorge Ferrer narrates the traces of totalitarianism in three generations of his family

The author, interviewed by Maite Rico and Ignacio Vidal-Folch at the presentation of his book in Madrid / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 3 June 2024 — “There are many ways to have encountered the Russian and Cuban revolutions, and end up hurt by them. A lot,” says Jorge Ferrer (b. Havana, 1967). The writer and translator wanted to investigate the stories he knows best: those of a family, his own, shaken by totalitarianism. His book De Rusia a Cuba. Contra la memoria y el olvido [From Russia to Cuba. Against Memory and Oblivion] (Ladera Norte publishing house), which has just been presented in Madrid, narrates the vicissitudes of three generations that dealt differently with the destinies set for them by Castroism.

Its protagonists are three Ferrers. Federico, the grandfather, born in Spain, the adventurer who ended up as Batista’s police officer, a novelistic character, with excessive love affairs, who preferred to serve drinks in New York rather than languish as an outcast, a misfit, what in the USSR they called byvshi and in Cuba worm, lumpen or scum.

His son, Jorge, repudiates him and chooses to embrace the new times as a meticulous apparatchik, “a perfect creature to grow up in the Cuban and Soviet worlds,” where he was assigned as a senior official. And the grandson, Jorge, the schoolkid, who is none other than the author himself, studies in Cuba and Russia, where perestroika lives, and returns to the island imagining a similar opening, to end up exiled in the country of his ancestors.

Characters such as Joseph Brodsky and Heberto Padilla; Marina Tsvetáieva, José Martí, Lezama Lima and Dulce María Loynaz appear in the story

But Ferrer does not stay in the biographical narrative. The book is a rich tapestry woven with threads that intertwine and separate, and more often than not run in parallel. They pass through Havana, Moscow and Miami. They cover the twentieth century and are left unfinished in the tragic Russian invasion of Ukraine, or a visit to Cuba in 2023.

Other characters enter this game of mirrors and enrich the picture: they are poets, Russians and Cubans, with equally broken lives: Joseph Brodsky and Heberto Padilla; Marina Tsvetáieva and José Martí; Lezama Lima and Dulce María Loynaz.

We immersed ourselves in the drama of the nostalgic byvshi in Bolshevik Russia, in Russian-Cuban relations from the Batista years to the present day; in the Cuban idiosyncrasy and its delight in exceptionality (like the Spaniards); in the role of intellectuals and journalists turned into choristers of the dictatorship.

Ferrer also pays tribute to the abused Cuban exiles, to their generosity, to their ability to forgive. “The only, greatest achievement that the Revolution can flaunt without blushing is its exile: its nobility, its dedication, its love for Cuba and Cubans. The economic muscle with which it has maintained the island’s residents. The nerve of the affections with which it has kept the Cuban nation united, only the exile alone,”he writes.

“From Russia to Cuba” is a vital journey and a reflection on uprooting, memory and oblivion. It is a search for roots and a journey of introspection. Ferrer does not judge the protagonists, guilty of history, who brave will and destiny as much as they can. But it does target autocrats. And a Revolution in whose “strenuous duration lies its genuine cruelty.” “Grinding for generations, the Revolution has not even needed to kill too much, because by lasting, it has left us to die. And it has watched us die. Time has killed us, like the bullets of the clock and the grainy fire of the calendar.”

Translated by LAR


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