A 30-something poet’s life unravels after she comes under the suspicions (and surveillance) of the Cuban state police.
Renowned abroad, though rarely published in her native Cuba—and never before translated into English—Guerra opens her melancholic semiautobiographical novel with Cleo in bed, where she has remained, more or less uninterrupted, for the entirety of the year since her parents’ suspicious deaths. Except for the family housekeeper, her only regular visitors are officers from the state secret police demanding answers to questions she doesn’t understand. “Who were they, really?” she wonders. “There was something more than ‘Papá’ and ‘Mamá’ behind their names.” What she doesn’t yet know is just how much. An outcast in Havana—her writing, prizewinning abroad, seems only to raise further suspicions on the island—and rejected by friends living in exile, Cleo is alone (minus surveillance, she is always alone) when a famous Hollywood actor knocks on her door. He wants to make a film about her father’s life, he explains. Her father, who, according to him, was executed the year she was born. According to him, in fact, none of what she believes to be the basic facts about her life—her father, her birthplace—are true. As in a dream, Gerónimo and Cleo fall into a passionate romance, both of them consumed by the project, interviewing retired military personnel who might have known her father, the “Cuban Rambo.” But in a very different way, Gerónimo might not be exactly who he seems, either. The result, as translated by Obejas, is arresting, an explosive portrait of loneliness and isolation. Thick with the atmosphere of Cleo’s Havana on the cusp of the Cuban thaw, the novel reads like the world’s most poetic anxiety dream, vibrant and stifling.
Demanding and unforgettable.