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Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

Yours Is My Kingdom

December 4, 2012 | Print Print |

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Yours is my kingdom.

HAVANA TIMES — I just read a book that’s chaotic, at least in appearance. Tuyo es el reino (Yours Is the Kingdom), by Abilio Estevez, was on my nightstand for months waiting in my line of books to be read. But if I had known how good it was, I swear it would have been among the first.

Now I’ve read it and I have no regrets.

A book full of symbols, it shows that the author is one of our greatest. Abilio Estevez now lives in the United States, and I don’t know what his relationship with Cuba is.

That’s to say, I don’t know if he can come to and leave Cuba easily, but I’ll be visiting again and again the piece of land that he describes in his novel as being “the island.”

Sex, madness, encounters and farewells, life and death are all in a Cuba of the 1950s that could be in this century, the Cuba of today…and the sea is everywhere.

The edition I read was published in 1998 by UNEAC Union (the Writers and Artists Association of Cuba).

However reading Abilio Estevez only heightened my curiosity. My need is simple: I want to know what (who and how) Cubans living outside the country are writing.

I’m not making any kind of fuss. It’s just that we don’t even get a line from what’s printed abroad. Sure, lots of international bestsellers are published here, but what about works by other Cubans?

Are they all washing dishes? Are all of them thinking about how to return? None of them are creating? None of them are writing literature?

These are only rhetorical questions. Of course there must be a lot of creative Cubans out there, in many parts of the world. So why are almost none of them published here? How I can I get what they publish?

How long will it take to see us all together, at least in words? Who do we have to wait for? How long will our literary references remain without these names?

I’m speaking of literature. I’m talking about and for those people who don’t have access to Facebook (or any of the other social networks) but are interested in knowing what’s being done abroad.

For the kingdom to be everyone’s, I only want to repeat what Leopold the cat asked: “Are we going to be friends?


What's your opinion?

  • Moses

    What a curious post. I am an avid reader and yet I have never wondered what books to read based on the nationality of the author. I, of course, seek out books written in English, but generally that has never posed a problem. I have never asked for or wondered if the author was American. My Cuban wife, when purchasing art, will ask if the painter or sculptor is Cuban. I only care if I like the painting or the sculpture. I find it a little sad that nationalism must impact even tastes in art or preferences in what one reads.

    • Griffin

      Moses,

      I understand your point about indifference to the nationality of a writer: if it’s a good book, it matters not where the writer is coming from.

      However, as a guide to learning and understanding another country, especially one so isolated and misunderstood as Cuba is, the literature of a nation can provide a wonderful insight into the daily life, the culture and mores, the history and arts of the people.

  • Griffin

    Dear Maria,

    I have become a great fan of Cuban literature, reading my way through a library of books from your country. I started with Jose Marti, (of course), then Alejo Carpentier, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Reinaldo Arenas, José Lezama Lima, Leonardo Padura and Pedro-Juan Gutierrez.

    Some of these authors went into exile, while the last two, Padura & Gutierrez still live & write in Cuba.

    There are several more fine writers living outside Cuba and writing today. Carlos Eire is the author of 2 fine memoirs on exile, “Waiting for Snow in Havana” and “Learning to Die in Miami”. He was one of the original Pedro-Pan refugees who came to the US as a young child in the early days after the Revolution. The first book tells of his life before leaving Havana, and the second of his life as a child refugee in Miami. Eire is today a Professor of Religion at Yale University. His attitude toward Cuba is that he loves his country, but he hates the Castro regime. He does not support or endorse terrorism against Cuba, but he will not return until Cuba is free and democratic.

    Cristina García is the author of five novels: Dreaming in Cuban, The Agüero Sisters, Monkey Hunting, A Handbook to Luck, and The Lady Matador’s Hotel. García has edited two anthologies, Cubanísimo: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature and Bordering Fires: The Vintage Book of Contemporary Mexican and Chicano/a Literature. Cristina was born in Havana and emigrated as a child to the US in 1961. She works as a teacher of writing and by selling her very popular novels, translated into many languages. I ‘m not aware of her attitude toward the Cuban government, however she did not grow up in Miami and has said she is not part of that Miami milieu. http://www.cristinagarcianovelist.com/

    Reinaldo Arenas went into exile during the Mariel Boatlift. His novels written in Cuba before his exile had caused him difficulties with the authorities and was jailed several times. As a Cuban author, he became a non-person, his name was struck from the official UNEAC list of writers. He was for a while recognized in the US as an important “dissident” writer. However, when he arrived in America he was surprised to find his books suddenly dropped from the college coarse lists on Latin American literature. Academics in the US tend to be left-leaning and many were sympathetic toward Castro. A living breathing victim of Cuban state oppression was an unwelcome reminder of the hypocrisy of academic fashions. Arenas lived in poverty in New York and died by suicide in 1990. His memoir, “Before Night Falls” , which includes an account of his imprisonment in El Morro Castle , became a best seller in 1993 and was made into a rather good film starring Javier Bardem as Arenas and Johnny Depp in a double role as a sadistic prison guard and a transvestite inmate of the same prison.

    Achy Obejas lives in Chicago and works as a novelist and journalist. She writes on issues of nationality, race & sexuality (she identifies as Lesbian). She edited an excellent anthology of Cuban writers , “Havana Noir” which includes work by authors on and off the island. http://achyobejas.com/

    Carolina Garcia-Aguilera (born in Cuba in 1949, emigrated in 1960) is a very successful author of mystery novels set in Miami. The series is celebrated for its rich and detailed coverage of the Cuban American, Catholic, exile community in Florida, their history, and the differences and conflicts between the generations regarding Cuba and Fidel Castro. http://www.carolinagarciaaguilera.com/

    I hope this short list will be of some use to those interested in the work of Cuban writers in exile. As to why almost none of these authors are published in Cuba is obvious: anybody who leaves the tropical socialist paradise is declared a “gusano” and the authorities ban them.

    And thank you for the recommendation of the work of Albilio Estevez, I checked & his books are available at Amazon, in Spanish & in English. I look forward to discovering yet another fine Cuba writer!

  • Griffin

    This link takes you to a page at Google Books with some excerpts from “Havana Noir”, edited by Achy Obejas

    http://books.google.ca/books?id=YUwiFGX2yvkC&pg=PT142&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

  • Griffin

    Other notable Cuba writers outside Cuba:

    Eliseo Alberto: (1951 – 2011) Emigrated to Mexico. Alberto’s novels often touched on the themes of Christian morality, including punishment, redemption and forgiveness. He focused much of his attention on characters living in his native city, Havana. Some of his novels set in Havana include La fábula de José (José’s Fable) and La eternidad por fin comienza un lunes (Eternity Finally Begins on a Monday), about the life of a lion trainer, Tartufo, who grieves after the death of the lion, named Goldwyn Mayer.

    A fierce critic of Cuba’s Communist government, Alberto released a 1997 book criticizing Fidel Castro, entitled Informe contra mi mismo or Dossier Against Myself. In the 1997 book, Alberto revealed that the Cuban government had asked him to spy on his father’s tertulias in 1978 while he was serving in the Cuban military. He was also asked to spy on Cuban exiles returning to the country. He was awarded the Premio Alfaguara de Novela literary prize for “Caracol Beach” in 1998.

    Zoé Valdés (born 1959), lives in Paris, France. She has published numerous works in poetry, children’s stories, novels and recorded music. http://www.zoevaldes.com.fr/fs01.htm

    Daína Chaviano, (born 1960). She is considered one of the three most important female fantasy and science fiction writers in the Spanish language. In Cuba, she published several science fiction and fantasy books, becoming the most renowned and best-selling author in those genres in Cuban literature. Since leaving the island, she has distinguished herself with a series of novels incorporating historical and more contemporary matters as well as mythological and fantastic elements. http://www.dainachaviano.com/

  • David

    Estévez is an exceptional writer, though I like Los palacios distantes better than Tuyo es el reino. Unlike his first novel, Los palacios distantes was not published in Cuba. Hopefully a copy can find its way into your hands, María. And we look forward to the day when you on the island have access to the work of your fellow Cubans living abroad.

  • Griffin

    Abilio Estevez’s book has been published in English under the title “Thine is the Kingdom”

    The phrase is derived, of course, from the Lord’s Prayer:

    Our Father who art in heaven,
    hallowed be thy name.
    Thy kingdom come.
    Thy will be done
    on earth as it is in heaven.
    Give us this day our daily bread,
    and forgive us our trespasses,
    as we forgive those who trespass against us,
    and lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.
    For thine is the kingdom,
    and the power, and the glory,
    for ever and ever.
    Amen.

    http://www.amazon.com/Thine-Kingdom-Abilio-Estevez/dp/B006G8IC7I/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1354820589&sr=8-7&keywords=Abilio+Estevez

  • Griffin

    This is a very nice collection of contemporary Cuban writing:

    “Dream with No Name: Contemporary Fiction from Cuba”

    http://www.amazon.com/Dream-No-Name-Contemporary-Fiction/dp/B0071UNZIG

    Most of the authors lived and worked in Cuba, a few emigrated. What stands out is the fact that Cuban literature is very much part of the world of literature, not an isolated culture. All the trends in contemporary fiction, from literary to popular fiction, can be found among Cuban writers. Even those stories which deal with local Cuban issues are easily comprehended by readers around the world.