[January 7th marks the 60th anniversary of Fidel Castro entering Havana to take over as Cuba’s prime minister—one begrudgingly recognized by a U.S. government that had opposed his revolution and would continue to oppose his rule. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied Cuban histories in relationship to the U.S.—leading up to this weekend post on literary works that can help us understand the island nation and ourselves!]
On three recent Cuban American texts that complement and enrich our histories.
1) Fallen Angels Sing (1991): Novelist Omar Torres translated his own Spanish-language novel Apenas un Bolero (1981) into this English version. His first-person narrator Miguel Saavedra is a Cuban exile in the U.S. who becomes entangled in schemes both to assassinate Fidel Castro and to oppose such exiles and bolster the Castro regime. Saavedra’s increasing uncertainties about and separations from reality lend the novel a magical realism feel, but also reflect the liminal identity and experience of Cuban exiles in America, individuals and families who still feel part of their homeland (and live only a few miles away from it) and yet exist in a state of displacement from that setting and community. In those and other ways Torres’s novel comprises one of the most exemplary fictions of the 20th century Cuban American experience.
2) Dreaming in Cuban (1992): Cristina García’s National Book Award-finalist debut novel tells a story of Cuban American exile and community as well, but in very different ways: García traces three generations in a Cuban American family, moving back and forth in chronology and between Cuba and the United States, and also utilizes shifting narrations and perspectives to create those different characters and eras. In those ways García’s novel closely parallels another early 1990s debut book, Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991), reflecting late-century evolutions in the postmodern American novel. But García’s book is also specific to the experience of exile (rather than migration or immigration), particularly in her character Pilar Puente’s titular inability to think in Spanish at any time other than in her dreams.
3) Havana Libre (2017): Robert Arellano’s novel occupies very different genres from those other two: it’s a mystery and spy thriller that features a protagonist, Dr. Mano Rodriguez, returning from a prior book (2009’s Havana Lunar), making it part of a series a la Jack Reacher (and many many others). But Arellano’s novel is also a historical fiction, set amidst and focusing on the 1997 terrorist bombings of tourist hotels in Havana. As such, Arellano uses those genre trappings and tropes to explore complicated historical questions (in the 1990s and even more so in the 2010s) of Cuba’s evolving relationship to foreign (and especially American) tourists, questions made more complicated by Rodriguez’s own status as an exiled Cuban American returning to the nation in an undercover role. Cuban American literature continues to evolve in our contemporary moment, and Arellano’s book reflects those developments in both genre and theme.
Next series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think? Other Cuban texts or histories you’d highlight?
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