Modern-day Cuba comes to life in this story of a professor who falls in love with a young writer.
Fernández-Pintado’s novel, capably translated by Cluster, challenges the tropes and stereotypes inherent in much of the literature about Cuba to add a new perspective. It’s narrated by Marian, who at 37 is absorbed in her work as a Spanish literature professor in Havana. She’s happy enough, though mourning the loss of her mother, who raised her alone. Each member of her small group of close friends has a story about travel, “the golden apple of our unending national desire,” and how they’ve survived hardships—without sentimentalizing them—to maintain their roots while so many others have left, returned, left again, in cycles. Marian is on the fence. Her ambivalence is jolted a little after her ex-boyfriend Marcos leaves for London. But she’s really shaken up after her boss at the university asks her to write the introduction to a new book, and she meets the author, Daniel Arco, a 22-year-old “classic erudite vagabond.” Why Marian falls in love so deeply so fast isn’t clear; Daniel’s lines as he woos her are comical at times, verging on satire. Far more interesting are the arguments they have after Daniel proposes they leave Cuba together. He spins tales of a wondrous life in Madrid, and Marian responds that she’d rather not end up “an undocumented dishwasher in a foreign city.” The novel feels a bit patched together as Marian discovers she’d like to be a writer someday. But the humor, anecdotes about the revolution and political commentary make each page worthwhile. Marian contends that the people she knows aren't like those in novels about Cuba by José Saramago or Paul Auster. “Real literature isn’t denouncing Cuba and socialism for three hundred pages seasoned with sex and local color.”
A sharp, funny blend of politics and romance that strikes out in a new direction.