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by Ana Menéndez

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8021-7084-2
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove

A deft, playful collection of linked stories about migration, flight, (mis)translation, the joys and disfigurements of myth—that is, about Cuba.

The fourth book of fiction and second collection (In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, 2001, etc.) by Cuban-American journalist Menéndez consists of 27 fragments of varying lengths, but it's not a miscellany. There's plenty of metafictional apparatus (a prologue by an Irish transplant to Havana, a lyrical dream-parable by a persona named Ana Menéndez in which she says that "Details are stupid and unreal" and urges us not to "get sucked in by my lies"). There are little riffs or games, such as the story that consists of Google translations of iconic Cuban poems. There are tributes to Cuban writers (Alejo Carpentier, Jose Martí and others). There are also more traditional stories—often with magical elements—like "The Parachute Makers," which ends, as several of these stories do, with a protagonist taking to the air to escape. In another book, all this intellectual superstructure might seem clunky or stilted, but in the case of a book about Cuba—especially a book about the emigre's longing for a Cuba that is now mythical and that may always have been, a Cuba made up of a few obsessive themes and metaphors—it works well, revitalizing the old tropes and stories by giving them a new setting and emphasis. This is most evident in a brace of Elián González stories, especially "The Boy Who Was Rescued by Fish," in "Glossary of Caribbean Winds" and in "The Boy Who Fell from Heaven," which begins with a list, grading from fact into fiction, of Cubans who've stowed away in the wheel wells of jets departing Havana.  

Part love song to Cuban literature and lore, part Borgesian encyclopedia of the subspecies of flight, part questioning of the very conditions of fiction-making—and all charming.