Monday, November 30, 2015

The last days of Pablo Neruda, as told by his driver and secretary

Pablo Neruda
Photo by Sara Facio

The last days of Pablo Neruda, 

as told by his driver and secretary

English version by Martin Delfín

Chilean poet assured Manuel Araya he was injected in the stomach hours before he died

Manuel Araya, who was Pablo Neruda's driver, seen this month in Isla Negra, Chile, where he lived with the poet. / SEBASTIÁN UTRERAS (EL PAÍS)

Four hours before Pablo Neruda died, allegedly from prostate cancer, the man who was taking care of him found himself unable to complete one of his last tasks: to buy his boss medicine to “alleviate the poet’s pain.”
The newly installed military dictatorship in Chile prevented him from doing so.

All of Neruda’s collaborators were forced to disappear. I am the only major one left”
Forty-two years later, Manuel Araya Osorio is out to complete his last mission: to help prove that the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet was poisoned while he stayed at a Santiago hospital, days before he was expected to fly into exile.
Araya, now 69, is the only known surviving witness who can recall Neruda’s final days before his death on September 23, 1973. He is convinced that Neruda didn’t die at age 69 from prostate cancer – as the official record states – but had been murdered by the military.
At the time, he was 27 years old, and had been working as the poet’s driver and personal secretary. The day he left Santa María Hospital, where Neruda had been admitted, four armed military officers stopped him.
“I am the secretary, driver and the person who is taking care of Mr Pablo Neruda – the Nobel laureate in literature,” he recalled telling them. “And I am on my way to buy him some medicine. It is urgent.”
According to Araya, they grabbed him from the white Fiat 125 vehicle he was driving, beat him up and shot him in the leg. He was then taken to police headquarters, where he was interrogated and tortured.
Later, he was transferred to Santiago’s National Stadium, where theAugusto Pinochet regime held scores of political prisoners who would later be killed or forced to disappear.

Manuel, let me tell you, Pablito died last night at 10.30”
Araya spent the night at the stadium. The following day Santiago Archbishop Raúl Silva Henríquez recognized him.
“Manuel, let me tell you, Pablito died last night at 10.30.”
“Murderers!” the driver yelled back.
It wasn’t until after 42 days that Araya was freed from custody, with the archbishop’s help. But it was just the beginning of a long nightmare.
“All of Neruda’s collaborators were forced to disappear. I am the only major one left of that group that is still alive,” Araya said in a recent phone interview from his home in Chile.

Manuel Araya, during the time he was Pablo Neruda's driver.
Araya began working for Neruda when the poet returned to Chile from France in 1972 to help his friend, President Salvador Allende. He stayed the with poet and his family in Isla Negra, on the Pacific coast.
Neruda had been diagnosed with prostate cancer but “wasn’t agonizing,” Araya said, adding that the poet also suffered from phlebitis in his right leg and sometimes walked with a limp.
Following his release from custody, Araya said that he returned to Santiago so as not to put his own family in danger.
“I lived nearly hidden with friends at their house. I had no driver’s license or national identity card. No one would give me a job until 1977 when I started working as a taxi driver. The dictatorship ended in 1990 and two years later I started working for [bus line] Pullmanbus in the administrative area, until I retired in 2006,” he said.
The driver continued to have contact with Neruda’s widow and third wife, Matilde Urrutia, who died in 1985. But their relationship soured over Araya’s insistence that Neruda had been poisoned.
He even tried to get former President Ricardo Lagos and others to hear his story but “no one would listen to me.”

Manuel Araya, at Isla Negra, this month. / SEBASTIÁN UTRERAS (EL PAÍS)
“Maybe they were scared, but I really don’t know why.”
It wasn’t until 2011, when a journalist from the Mexican news magazine Proceso interviewed him, that an official investigation got underway at the request of the Chilean Communist Party (PCC).
Two years later, a judge ordered Neruda’s remains to be exhumed but forensic experts found no traces of poison.
But fresh revelations have now surfaced in a book by Alicante historian Mario Amorós, entitledNeruda. El príncipe de los poetas (or, Neruda: The prince of poets), which went on sale this week in Spain.
Among the new facts – as EL PAÍS first reported – is a Chilean Interior Ministry document handed over to investigating Judge Mario Carroza Espinosa on March 25 that states that Neruda did not die as a “consequence of the prostate cancer he had,” but that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties.”

I had loosened some wires on his television set so he couldn’t see the coup taking place”
Judge Carroza is now waiting for the results of a final forensic examination by a team of international experts who are looking into traces of the staphylococcus aureus bacteria found in Neruda’s remains. If genetically altered, the bacteria could be lethal if given at a high dosages.
Scientists are trying to determine the DNA make-up of the bacteria and conclude if it had been altered at a military base, taking into account that the Pinochet dictatorship used chemical weapons to help get rid of its opponents, Carroza has said.
A ruling in the case is expected by March 2016, according to the forensic investigators.
On September 11, 1973 – the day of the bloody coup that overthrew President Allende – Neruda summoned his driver before dawn to tell him that he had heard on an Argentinean radio station of a possible military uprising. The poet was at home in Isla Negra.

When we returned, Neruda’s face was red: ‘They injected me in my stomach and I am burning up inside’”
“I had loosened some wires on his television so he couldn’t see what was happening,” Araya recalled. “The entire country was under curfew. ‘They are going to kill us all,’ don Pablo said.”
The following day, they saw a navy warship off the coast of Isla Negra. Mexico’s ambassador to Chile had offered Neruda asylum.
On September 14, military officers entered his home and searched the premises.
“We were all scared,” recalled Araya. “The military didn’t want to give him a safe conduct pass, so he had to say that he was sick and needed to leave to seek treatment; the only way to get him out was on humanitarian grounds.”
On September 19, Neruda, his driver and wife all traveled to Santiago by car; they were stopped on several occasions by military officers who threatened and insulted them.

We never let Neruda out of our sight. Every night I slept in a chair while Matilde slept at entrance of his room”
“It took us five hours when it should have taken us two,” he said. “We arrived at 6pm but never let Neruda out of our sight. Every night I slept in a chair while Matilde slept at entrance of his room.”
On September 22, Neruda was granted a safe conduct pass and he agreed with Mexican ambassador Gonzalo Martínez Corbalá that he would fly to Mexico two days later.
“The next day, Sunday September 23, he asked me to return to Isla Negra with La patoja, his nickname for Matilde, to fetch the luggage. We went and his stepsister Laurita stayed with him.
“Nearly on our way back, at around 4pm, he called the Santa Helena inn to ask them to tell Matilde to rush on back. When we returned, Neruda’s face was red: ‘They injected me in my stomach and I am burning up inside’.”
Araya said that he grabbed a wet towel and placed it on his stomach while a doctor entered the room and told him to go out any purchase a drug used to treat gout.

Two vehicles intercepted me and four armed men got out and began beating me”
The driver never returned to the hospital.
“When I was driving in my car two vehicles intercepted me and four armed men got out and began beating me, saying: ‘You son-of-a-bitch! We’re going to kill all the Communists!’ They took me to police headquarters where they interrogated and tortured me.
“They wanted to know where the Communist leaders were hiding, and who held meetings with Neruda. I told them that Neruda only met with other writers.
“In the end, they took me to the National Stadium and the following day Archbishop Silva Henríquez broke the news,” Araya recalled.
Now, the retired driver is awaiting Judge Carroza’s final ruling in the Neruda case. But his last task for his former boss has been completed – someone paid attention to his story.
“I am more serene than ever,” he concludes.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chile believes it “highly likely” that poet Neruda was murdered in 1973

Chile believes it “highly likely” 

that poet Neruda was murdered in 1973

English version by Martin Delfín.

Nobel laureate’s death after Pinochet coup had always been attributed to prostate cancer

Salvador Allende y Pablo NerudaPoet Pablo Neruda (r) next to President Salvador Allende in an undated photo. / FUNDACIÓN SALVADOR ALLENDE
The Chilean government has for the first time officially recognized that Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda may have been murdered days after the 1973 bloody coup that toppled President Salvador Allende.
A Chilean Interior Ministry report obtained by EL PAÍS states that Neruda did not die as a “consequence of the prostate cancer he had,” but that “it was clearly possible and highly likely” that he was killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties.”

Neruda may have been killed as a result of “the intervention of third parties” 
Neruda died on Sunday September 23, 1973 at the Santa María Hospital in Santiago after he was taken there by his driver from his home in Isla Negra.
On that day, according to the document, he was either given an injection or something orally that caused his death six-and-a-half hours later.
The 1971 Nobel laureate was scheduled to fly to Mexico where he may have been planning to lead a government in exile that would denounce General Augusto Pinochet, who led the coup against Allende on September 11, according to his friends, researchers and other political observers.
Neruda, a Marxist, was close friends with Allende, who reportedly committed suicide at La Moneda presidential palace on the morning of the rebellion. In the 1930s, he served as consul and cultural attaché in Barcelona, and lived for a brief time in Madrid with his second wife, the Argentinean artist Delia del Carril.
The Chilean ministry’s report was prepared for a court investigation into Neruda’s death that is being led by Judge Mario Carroza Espinosa.
The finding is also the main revelation included in a new Neruda biography by Alicante historian Mario Amorós entitled Neruda. El príncipe de los poetas (Neruda: The prince of poets), which will go on sale next week in Spain and on November 23 in Chile.
Judge Carroza has been gathering evidence, including testimonies and official documents, since 2011. However, he is unable to make a final decision on the case until he receives the results of an important forensic study that could corroborate the murder allegations.
“We have always followed the line that something strange happened during his final days,” the judge said. “Neruda had cancer but he wasn’t suffering, nor was it terminal. But on September 23, his health suddenly deteriorated and he died six-and-a-half hours later.”
Carroza said that he is waiting for the results of the last scientific test conducted in May, which found that Neruda was infected with the staphylococcus aureus bacteria, which can be highly toxic and result in death if modified.
The murder investigation was opened in 2011 after Neruda’s former driver Manuel Araya Osorio publicly revealed in an interview with Mexican magazine Proceso that Pinochet had ordered the poet killed before he could travel to Mexico.

Pablo Neruda’s death certificate.
The body was exhumed on April 8, 2013 after the Chilean Communist Party (PCC) filed a complaint. A study of the remains by a team of international forensic experts failed to find any strange toxic agents or substances present in his body.
One of the experts who took part in the study, Spanish forensic scientist Francisco Etxeberria said that the judge has leaned toward accepting the murder theory based on the series of coincidences and persecutions that Neruda experienced during his final days.
“That day, he was alone in the hospital where he had already spent five days. His health was declining and he called his wife, Matilde Urrutia, so she could come immediately because they were giving him something and he wasn’t feeling good. He ended up dying a short while later, to the surprise of many, at a good hospital, which has raised suspicions,” said Etxeberria, who works at the University of the Basque Country.
Neruda was only 69 and the urologist who had examined him the month before had given him a life expectancy of five years under treatment, as his wife often said later, according to the author of the new book.
It was the Spanish forensic expert who detected the presence of the staphylococcus aureus bacteria and Judge Carroza is now awaiting the final lab results.

The Neruda murder inquiry was opened in 2011 after his former driver revealed that Pinochet ordered the poet killed to prevent him from going into exile
“We are trying to identify the DNA of this type of staphylococcus aureus. In other words, to establish if it was common at the time or in the area, or if it was manipulated. There are previous instances of this occurring in military bases where the strains were altered. But what we are looking for is difficult: if it was an altered staphylococcus, we are talking about finding out the base or the country where it might have been manipulated,” Etxeberria said.
No one knew the name of the doctor or person who might have injected Neruda or given him medicine at the hospital.
The Neruda case is not the only one involving the alleged poisoning of a political figure in Chile. In 1982, former president Eduardo Frei Montalva, a 71-year-old Christian Democrat who served before Allende, died just days after having undergone a routine hernia operation at a Santiago hospital. He was an ardent critic of Pinochet.
Because of his sudden death and political activism, many people, including his family, believe that Pinochet ordered his poisoning.

Judge orders exhumation of Chilean poet Neruda’s remains

Pablo Neruda

Judge orders exhumation of Chilean poet Neruda’s remains

Former driver claims Nobel Prize winner was murdered

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
The body of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who died on September 23, 1973 - 12 days after the Salvador Allende government was ousted in a bloody coup led by Augusto Pinochet - will be exhumed in the coming weeks.
Judge Mario Carroza, who is trying to clarify the circumstances of the Nobel Prize winner's death, opened an inquiry in 2011 after the Mexican magazine Proceso interviewed Manuel Osorio Araya, the poet's personal driver during the final months of his life. Osorio Araya told Proceso that Neruda was murdered by the military under Pinochet's orders. The official story for decades has been that the Communist intellectual died of prostate cancer shortly after the overthrow of President Allende.
No date has been set as to when the remains of Neruda - who is buried near his home in Isla Negra - will be exhumed, but it could be carried out as early as next month. The Pablo Neruda Foundation, which confirmed the judge's ruling on Friday after the web portal El Mostrador reported it, said it will cooperate with the investigation.

The Foundation has always expressed its willingness to cooperate with the investigation that is to be carried out by Judge Carroza"
"The Foundation has always expressed its willingness to cooperate with the investigation that is to be carried out by Judge Carroza, and trusts that the experts' inquiry will be conducted with the utmost respect and care possible."
After September 11, the poet was heading into exile in Mexico with his wife Matilda. "The plan was to overthrow the tyrant from abroad in less than three months. We were going to ask the world to help oust Pinochet. But before he took the plane after he was admitted to a clinic, they gave him a lethal injection in his stomach," Araya told EL PAÍS in December 2011.
The Chilean Communist Party, which filed a complaint to clarify the causes of Neruda's death, welcomed the judge's decision. After 20 months of inquiries and statements from witnesses and experts, Carroza decided in late January to issue the order to exhume Neruda's body. Chile's Legal Medical Service (SML), which has specialized in the identification of victims of the dictatorship and has been instrumental in clarifying human rights cases, will be in charge of the exhumation.
In May 2011, the same team, with the cooperation of the Spanish forensic expert Francisco Etxeberría, confirmed that the Marxist President Allende did commit suicide in La Moneda after his remains were also exhumed.
Carroza always favored the exhumation of Neruda, but decided to conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if he could discover new evidence, 40 years after the death of the poet. In August, SML received a report stating that the poet's death was sudden, and non-violent, with "the unlikeliness that third parties participated," according to the daily La Segunda.
As was the case in Spain with the family of Federico García Lorca, who for years opposed the poet's exhumation, the Neruda Foundation was also reluctant to dig up his remains when the new allegations surfaced two years ago. "It would be a true act of desecration," said then-foundation president, Juan Agustín Figueroa, in 2011.

Was poet Pablo Neruda murdered?

Pablo Neruda

Was poet Pablo Neruda murdered?

Former driver's testimony has led to court inquiry into allegations that the Chilean Nobel Prize winner was killed while waiting to go into exile


Pablo Neruda's death certificate says the beloved poet died from prostate cancer on September 23, 1973 - just less than two weeks after his friend and fellow Marxist, President Salvador Allende, was deposed in a bloody coup. But nearly 40 years after his death, and the events that plunged Chile into one of the darkest periods of its modern history, Neruda's former driver has created a commotion by coming forward to charge that the poet was murdered under the orders of dictator Augusto Pinochet.
"After the September 11 coup, he was planning to go into exile with his wife Matilde. The plan was to try to overthrow the dictator within three months from abroad. He was going to ask the world to help overthrow Pinochet but before he could board a plane the plotters took advantage of the fact that he had been admitted to a hospital, and that's where they injected him in his stomach with poison," claims Manuel del Carmen Araya Osorio, a 65-year-old taxi driver.
His version, which was first published in the well-respected Mexican magazine Proceso, provoked the Chilean Communist Party, of which the poet was a member, to demand a judicial investigation into the causes of Neruda's death.
Investigating Judge Mario Carroza has gathered more than 500 documents concerning the allegations, and will decide whether to give the order for Neruda's body to be exhumed. Carroza has carried out recent inquiries into the deaths of Allende and former President Eduardo Frei and is also looking into the murder of the father of ex-President Michelle Bachelet.
Neruda's former chauffeur, who lives in the seaside city of San Antonio, some 109 kilometers from the capital Santiago, met the Nobel Prize-winning poet in 1972 after he was given the task to ferry Neruda around by fellow Chilean Communist Party members.
Neruda, who was appointed ambassador to France by Allende, had returned to Chile after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. In the 1930s, Neruda served as consul and cultural attaché in Barcelona, and lived for a brief time in Madrid with his second wife, the Argentinean artist Delia del Carril.
Living with third wife Matilde in the picturesque town of Isla Negra, Neruda, weighing some 100 pounds, never stopped writing or receiving visitors, Araya recalls. In fact, Neruda finished his biography, Confieso que he vivido (or, I confess that I have lived), on September 14, 1973, nine days before his death and surrounded by military officers who had come to search his home and keep him under watch following the coup.
Mexican President Luis Echeverría sent his ambassador to Neruda's home on September 16 to offer him and Matilde asylum; the poet accepted. According to Araya, Neruda traveled by ambulance to Santiago on September 19 along with his wife. The driver followed them in his own Fiat. A trip that usually took two hours took six that day, after they were stopped by military officers in search of weapons in the vehicles.
"They stopped us more than once. It was very humiliating," he said.
Neruda was admitted to the Santa María Hospital in Santiago to await his flight to Mexico, which was scheduled for September 22. "He was fine and spoke normally. The only thing he couldn't do was remain standing."
He asked Araya and Matilde to fetch some things for him back at Isla Negra to take to Mexico. While they were there, Neruda phoned them to return because he wasn't feeling well. "When we got back we found him swollen and red," Araya claims, adding that the physician on duty told them he was given an injection during the night.
The doctor asked Araya to go to the outskirts of the city to find some medicine, which he did even though he found it an odd request. While he was driving, two vehicles intercepted him and officers shot him in the knee before taking him to the National Stadium, which became a gigantic holding pen for Pinochet's opponents.
Neruda died of a heart attack the following evening at age 69.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Léa Seydoux / Meet the Chic 'Spectre' Bond Girl

Lea Seydoux in 'Spectre.' The French actress best known for her role in the award-winning 'Blue Is the Warmest Color' is the latest addition to the Bond girl canon. 

Léa Seydoux: 

Meet the Chic 'Spectre' Bond Girl

How a 'street' kid from Paris became 007's coolest leading lady in ages

By Alex Morris 

I learned from the streets," says actress Léa Seydoux, perched on a plush sofa in the bar of New York's Bowery Hotel. "I mean, I'm not, like, Jay Z," she adds, laughing through the gap in her front teeth. "But in a way, I really did my own education."

It was "the life of freedom, being your own boss" that drew Seydoux, 30, to acting. She had her breakout performance in the 2013 French film
 Blue Is the Warmest Color, which featured a now-legendary seven-minute lesbian sex scene and won her a Palme d'Or at Cannes. Right now you can catch her as the newest Bond girl in Spectre, opposite Daniel Craig. It's by far the most high-profile role yet for an actress with deep art-house roots. "I thought, 'Oh, it's never going to work, all the other girls will want [the part],'" she says.The "streets," in Seydoux's case, were the boulevards of Paris' Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood, historically the city's cultural center, where, thanks to her parents' bohemian tendencies, she was often left to her own devices. "I've always felt like an orphan," says the actress, who was one of seven kids. "I didn't have any structure."
In fact, Seydoux was used to being the misfit in a glittery world. Her father is CEO of the wireless company Parrot, and, in Seydoux's words, a "genius" engineer; her mother a philanthropist whose work often took her to Africa. Her family had entertainment-world connections thanks to her grandfather, a film producer, and she remembers childhood encounters with Mick Jagger and Lou Reed. But Seydoux was also left to wander the streets "badly dressed and in too-small shoes. And I had lice," she recalls. "I would ask girls to come to my house and play, and they were like, 'No, my mother doesn't want it, there's no supervision.'"
Seydoux started acting when she was 18, taking up a profession no one in her family had envisioned for her. "When I said, 'I want to be an actress,' my parents were like, 'Bullshit. Try if you want, but it's never going to work.' " But after becoming a fixture of French cinema, she was cast in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris and as a farm girl being questioned by Nazi soldiers in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. Her upbringing helped prepare her for her character in Spectre, an assassin's daughter who shares Seydoux's "instinct de vie" – the scrappy survival skills of someone burying her past. "Acting, you play a role every time," she says softly. "So it was made for me because, in a way, I can hide."

Friday, November 27, 2015

Leonardo Padura / Top 10 Cuban novels

Leonardo Padura's top 10 Cuban novels

Hemingway and Hijuelos are here, but the author of the Havana Quartet also looks beyond the Cuba we think we know to introduce some of the island's more hidden literary treasures

Leonardo Padura was born in 1955 in Havana and lives in Cuba. He has published a number of short-story collections and literary essays but international fame came with the Havana Quartet, all featuring Inspector Mario Conde. Like many others of his generation, Padura had faced the question of leaving Cuba, particularly in the late 80s and early 90s, when living conditions deteriorated sharply as Russian aid evaporated. He chose to stay.

Cuba is a country of poets. It would almost be too easy to select 10 poets or books of poetry that play a key role in the short history of Cuban literature. But there are excellent – and diverse – Cuban novelists, too few of whom are available in English translation. The 10 I've picked here will hopefully give some idea of both the country's literary tradition, and its imaginative life.

Street Art
Havana, 2015
Photo by Triunfo Arciniegas

1. Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces) by Alejo Carpentier (1962, trans. John Sturrock)

I am convinced that this is the highpoint of the Cuban novel, the perfect fiction and supreme expression of stylistic and conceptual ambition in narrative prose. In this account of the impact of the French Revolution in the Caribbean, the theme is the tragic destiny that awaits all revolutions: the failure of their grand aims and the perversion of their beautiful ideals.

2. Cecilia Valdés Or El Angel Hill (Cecilia Valdés) by Cirilo Villaverde (1882, trans. Helen Lane)

This is considered to be one of the best examples of 19th century realism and romanticism in Spanish and the finest evocation of Cuban customs of that era. Its characters departed the novel's pages long ago to become prototypes of what it means to be Cuban. The most beautiful and tragic love story ever written in Cuba, it also encompasses the horrors of the African slave trade and gives full literary expression to the city of Havana. It is the classic.

3. Three Trapped Tigers (Tres tristes tigres) by Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1967, trans. Suzanne Jill Levine & Donald Gardner)

This is the book which created a literary language of Havana. It's a kind of cathedral of words, and no translation could do it full justice, but readers throughout the world have enjoyed Cabrera Infante's fiction thanks to his wit and the stories he welds together in an unrivalled portrait of 1950s Havana nightlife, the golden age of Cuban music and the city. Once you've read this, Havana will never look the same again.

4. Paradiso by José Lezama Lima (1974, trans. Gregory Rabassa)

Admired rather than read or valued, and in many ways poetry rather than fiction, Paradiso is one of the most influential novels in the Spanish language. Written in a completely different register to the baroque of Carpentier or colloquial of Cabrera Infante, the author's mastery of language has created a whole school of "Lezamian" writers. In Paradiso, as in any poet's novel, the way the story is told is more important than the story itself and the digressions much more than mere anecdotes. It is a magnificent exercise in style.

5. The Lost Steps (Los pasos perdidos) by Alejo Carpentier (1953, trans. Harriet de Onís)

Carpentier yet again: we could also include in this list his 1949 novel The Kingdom of This World (1957), which gave birth to the aesthetic of "the real and marvellous from America". As in all his work, Carpentier's perspective is universal: he uses the journey of a western intellectual to the heart of the South American jungle to narrate the physical possibility of going back in time to the origins of civilisation. Its great merit, however, is the way it makes us feel the vicissitudes experienced by the novel's musician protagonist, who understands that individuals have no choice but to accept the time and history fate has dealt them.

6. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)

This is, of course, the best-known novel about Cuba by a non-Cuban author. And that's fair enough: thanks to The Old Man and The Sea Hemingway was awarded the Nobel prize, the gold medal for which still sits in the famous shrine to Our Lady of Charity at El Cobre, the Caribbean version of the Virgin Mary who is Cuba's patron saint. Although it merely recounts the story of a fisherman who after eighty-four days of "bad luck" finally makes a big catch, the novel is also about man's willpower and spirit of endurance. A beautiful fable for the human condition.

7. Temporada de ángeles (1983), Lisandro Otero; A Season For Angels, not translated.

Another great Cuban novel that is not set in Cuba: it goes back to the English Industrial Revolution, the beheading of Charles I and rule by Oliver Cromwell. It too makes a critique, from a literary perspective, of the fate of the great ideals of justice, freedom and equality. And of the perversity of politicians.

8. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989), Óscar Hijuelos

Hijuelos was born in Cuba but has lived in the United States from childhood and wrote this Pulitzer-prize winning work in English. Significantly, it is a novel created from all the stereotypical features that have gone into the construction of the image of Cubans for foreigners: their music, dancing, passion as lovers and romantic, rebellious spirit. Although there are more important novels written in Cuba from a literary point of view, the great international success of The Mambo Kings and its nostalgic portrait of a Cuba that is more dream than reality, make it a necessary player in the field of the Cuban novel.

9. Antes que anochezca (1990), Reinaldo Arenas; Before Night Falls, trans. Dolores M. Koch (1993)

A novel in every sense of the word, even though the raw materials are more or less real episodes from the more or less real life of its author, Reinaldo Arenas, one of the most intense, maudit, and visceral of Cuban writers. Arenas wrote and published this heartrending work just before his lonely and equally heartrending death in freezing New York. Its style, exuberance and rage are the stuff of great fiction, as was its author.

10. El negrero (1933), Lino Novás Calvo; The Slave-trader, not translated

This novel doesn't take place in Cuba, but mainly in the slave-trading centres on the coasts of Africa and in the boats that transported their human cargo to the island: the Africans who have contributed so much to Cuba's economic, cultural, religious and ethnic riches. The Slave-trader (the story of Pedro Blanco from Málaga, one of the last slave-traders from the middle of the 19th century) is a wonderful novel that, alongside Faulkner's, inspired Gabriel García Márquez and Juan Rulfo, the creators of the Latin American magical-realist novel.

Translated by Peter Bush

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cabrera Infante by Oscar Hijuelos

Guillermo Cabrera Infante
Poster by T.A.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante

by Oscar Hijuelos

In 1964, Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s most famous book, Three Trapped Tigers—an ingenious jazz-rich novel about pre-Castro Havana—brought him to the world’s attention as part of the Latin American boom, but all his works are unique and rewarding. A partial list of the many books he has written includes View of Dawn in the Tropics (1974), Infante’s Inferno (1984) andHoly Smoke (1985). A must for readers of literature, Cabrera Infante’s books are a fantastic distillation of a unique and impassioned—quite Cuban—consciousness. A self-described “writer of fragments,” his narratives about memory, life and history are often funny, always interesting and, from the point of view of the writer’s craft, complex and instructive. As the limitations of space prevent me from the critical appreciation his deeply inventive books deserve, I will speak briefly about the circumstances of this interview. It was conducted by fax, and quickly, due to my own travels and Cabrera Infante’s pressing schedule in London, where he lives with his wife Miriam; we have known each other for ten years. He is a friendly, circumspect, immensely approachable man with a capricious and alert mind. A master writer who, in this context, answers a few questions from an apprentice.
Oscar Hijuelos When you were a child in Cuba what were your first exposures to the notion of narrative?
Guillermo Cabrera Infante As a child I was exposed to the narratives of the movies. But the funnies (or monitos as they were called; in Havana we called them muñequitos) were as important—if not more so. The radio came later, where I heard a series of episodes or comedy programs. I was, by the way, the only one of my friends and/or classmates who read the funnies or could tell the difference between the movies and the serials. From the comic books in Havana I learned that a strip could be a trip, as in The Spirit, where Will Eisner’s heroes were always dressed in blue (blue suits, blue felt hat, blue gloves) and had a sidekick who was a black boy, called Ebony in Cuba as in Ebony Concerto. Serials like The Three Daredevils of the Red Circle (the titles are approximations of the Spanish ones) were exercises in waiting for the Coming Attractions. It is rather baffling—at least to me—that there were more thrills in the funnies than in the movies. I taught myself to read by deciphering the inscriptions in the balloons because my father or my mother was fed up with my insistence on instant gratification by translation. They were all, as it should be, forms of popular art more pertinent than literature then.