[Cuba] Revolutionary Cuba has no literature

Subject: [Cuba] Revolutionary Cuba has no literature
From: rsw@therandymon.com (RS Wood)
Newsgroups: dictator.america
Organization: The Dictator's Handbook
Date: Feb 09 2018 21:08:36

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Cuba’s lack of literature

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring cultural trends
around the world

The start of February sees the opening of the twenty-seventh Havana
Book Fair. Thousands of Cubans flock to the Fortaleza San Carlos de la
Cabaña, the Spanish colonial castle on a promontory with spectacular
views over the city to seize the rare opportunity to find cheap books
from Cuba and countries around the world. The fair continues until May,
the aim being to promote reading throughout the island.

This year the Fair’s country of honour is China, with more than 300
writers (the vast majority Cuban) scheduled to speak, and more than
thirty countries represented.  In 2017, when the invited country was
Canada, internationally known figures such as Margaret Atwood (who has
visited Cuba frequently mainly to pursue her bird-watching hobby) and
the Brazilian priest and author Frei Betto were among the guests.

And yet, despite these nods to internationalism, few contemporary
foreign writers are known on the island and their books are rarely
available. Editions in English from the United States or Europe are far
too expensive for ordinary Cubans, and there are no services such as
Amazon for online purchases. The Cuban state-run Instituto Cubano del
libro is far more interested in publishing cheap editions of Cuban
books, as well as classics of socialist realism from the Soviet Union
and elsewhere.

The variety of books on offer at the Havana Book Fair in fact
principally serves to underline the dearth of choice more generally.
Before the 1959 revolution led by Fidel Castro, the Calle Obispo in the
centre of old Havana was a thriving street, with many bookshops that
stocked works not only from Cuba but the rest of Latin America along
with imports from the United States and France among other countries.

Nowadays, the striking 1930s art deco building that houses the Moderna
Poesía bookshop is more interesting architecturally than for any of the
works it displays. “Lots of space, few books”, as a local writer says.
And those few tomes are nearly always the printed speeches of Castro,
books by the nineteenth-century Cuban independence hero José Martí, or
the works of Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Apart from Moderna Poesía and one or two other equally sparsely
populated bookshops, Cuban readers have to rely on second-hand copies
from the street markets that have proliferated since the restrictions
on self-employment were relaxed. But such books have to compete with
items, including food and clothing, that are more essential for
ordinary Cubans trying to get by in very difficult economic

There is also, in Havana and a few other cities, a network of
“independent libraries”, usually set up in the homes of concerned
individuals, often teachers or retired people. These unofficial
libraries offer a wider choice of both international and Cuban
literature. But even they have suffered in recent years, both from
official repression and because those who run them are exactly the kind
of educated, middle-class Cubans who have taken advantage of the new
opportunities to leave the island for Miami or elsewhere.

Long gone are the days of the 1960s when progressive intellectuals came
from all over the world to share the excitement of a nascent
revolution. Gone too are those debates in which President Castro
declared to writers that there was a space for “everything inside the
revolution, outside nothing”.

The Cuban state still controls what is – and what is not – published
through the Instituto Cubano del Libro, and the Writers’ and Artists’
Union, UNEAC. Officially promoted authors such as Miguel Barnet (who
has written important works based on testimony, including The Diary of
a Runaway Slave (1968)), the novelist Abel Prieto, and the poet Nancy
Morejon have no difficulty publishing, or travelling abroad to promote
their work.

Younger authors, though, and those with an alternative view, have much
more difficulty. Increasingly, they have turned to genre fiction to
express themselves, although they are often better known outside Cuba
than at home. This is the case for Pablo Gutierrez, whose Dirty Havana
Trilogy explores the more sordid aspects of life in the Cuban capital;
sex and violence are brought to the fore, and its cynical protagonists
no longer believe in anything except survival.

Leonardo Padura, writing in a similar vein, is one of the few authors
as well known on the island as abroad. He has managed to skirt
censorship and publish a string of novels that present an unflattering
view of life in Cuba through the eyes of his disillusioned, hard-boiled
ex-cop Mario Conde, who declares himself to be “a private detective on
an island where there are no detectives and nothing is private”. Padura
explores the dark side of daily life, which thrives sometimes with
tacit official recognition, sometimes completely hidden from view. To
the surprise of many, Padura was awarded the National Prize for
Literature in 2012, and he continues to live and write apparently
unchallenged. “People think that what I say is a measure of what can or
can’t be said in Cuba”, he told Jon Lee Anderson for a piece in the New
Yorker  shortly after he received the prize. Padura has lived all his
life in Cuba, but both he and Gutierrez bemoan the fact not only that
their works are little known or read in their own country, but also
that the restrictions and ideological constraints that have affected
Cuba since the revolution have cut readers off from the new trends and
interests explored in literature in the rest of the world.


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Date Subject  Author
09.02. * [Cuba] Revolutionary Cuba has no literatureRS Wood
10.02. +- Re: [Cuba] Revolutionary Cuba has no literatureJAB
11.02. `- Re: [Cuba] Revolutionary Cuba has no literatureJAB

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