Cuba on the Verge: Twelve Writers on Continuity and Change in Havana and Across the Country
edited by Leila Guerriero
It was late afternoon on March 22, 2016, when the sun came out in Havana. This was back when it was hard not to feel, in Cuba as in the United States, that history was progressing in a hopeful direction. It was the last day of Barack Obama’s historic visit …
In the Caribbean, hurricanes—it was this region’s native people who coined the word “hurakan”—have always been a fact of life. On islands like the one they called Borikén and that we know today as Puerto Rico, the indigenous Taíno knew better than to live by the sea. But the Spanish …
Bob Marley died of cancer on May 11, 1981, at the premature age of thirty-six. By then he was well known to college kids worldwide, but few could have foreseen the celebrity he has attained since. Born in Jamaica, he is the only third-world performer to be elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, the BBC named his “One Love” the “Song of the Millennium”; the same year Time declared his 1977 Exodus the “Best Album of the Twentieth Century.” Voted the third-greatest songwriter of all time in a 2001 BBC poll (behind Bob Dylan and John Lennon), Marley has sold an estimated 50 million records worldwide. On the 2007 Forbes list of “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities,” he ranked twelfth, with his estate earning an estimated $4 million. His posthumous greatest-hits collection, Legend (1984), is among the top-selling compilations of all time. Twenty-seven years after his death, there is perhaps no country where his songs—wry ballads and martial anthems, with soothing or stirring melodies—aren’t familiar.
In recent years there’s been a renaissance in Caribbean letters. At this year’s Key West Literary Seminar, “Writers of the Caribbean,” Joshua Jelly-Schapiro, author of Island People: The Caribbean and the World (2016) and a regular contributor to the Review, interviewed Marlon James, the Jamaican novelist whose most recent book, A Brief History of Seven Killings (2014), a sprawling portrait of modern Jamaica told through the lens of a 1977 assassination attempt on the reggae legend Bob Marley, made James the first Caribbean writer since V.S. Naipaul to win the Man Booker Prize.
Lennox Honychurch, historian of Dominica, told me his story of experiencing the worst storm ever to strike his island. He described the steep uphill battle that Dominica is still facing three months later, after the most damaging Caribbean hurricane season on record. Even to begin a rebuilding process will take years, and in the meantime, the world’s spotlight moves on.
Before 1983, Grenada was best known for producing, along with its famous spice, the great calypso singer Mighty Sparrow. Afterward, it was known for the traumas left by a sad episode of the cold war whose legacy, for our current political era, is the subject of a welcome new documentary film, The House on Coco Road, directed by Damani Baker.
What’s inarguable is that our country is now led by a man who received millions fewer votes than his opponent, but won the presidency thanks to an institution—the Electoral College—that was set up to protect the interests and ideas of slave-owning states like John Calhoun’s. We are, in 2017, still waging the battles of the nineteenth century.