Guillermo Cabrera Infante
Guillermo Cabrera Infante; drawing by David Levine


We know Havana mainly through photographs. Its great exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante, in his memories of the city in Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá, uses the kind of images that photographers love: crusted, Pompeian, the city’s Technicolor faded to black and white, its poetry diminished to documentary propaganda, its graffiti to Socialist slogans, while its forlorn palms have waved the same banner to Death or the Fatherland for nearly half a century. But Havana’s music can still be heard through peeling columns, and its folk dancers still wear the frilled costumes from old movies when its style was designed by Hollywood. The city’s features are raddled with nostalgia like Gloria Swanson’s in Sunset Boulevard, its black and white urchins run in a blur like the begging children in Odd Man Out, its shadows parallel those of East Berlin, its sadness scored not by a zither as in The Third Man but by the plangent lament of a guitar.

Havana, for the novelist, journalist, critic, and screenwriter Gabriel Ca-brera Infante, is like a thriller freeze-framed in the Forties with guitar arpeggios dissolving the stasis and releasing memories like pigeons rising to ecstatic and infectious drumming in praise of exiled deities, in rhumba, shango, and Santería. Mea Cuba, Ca-brera Infante’s collection of essays and reviews, published in Madrid in 1992 and in this country in 1994, is dedicated to a fellow exile, the great cinematographer Néstor Almendros.

To the exile, the music of his country must bring the most pain. Imagine then, Cabrera Infante surprised by a bright burst of Cuban music, from a sun-lanced lane in London. He will never return to Havana, a city he has described with such acrid affection in his previous works: the novels Tres Tristes Tigres (Three Trapped Tigers), Infante’s Inferno, and View of Dawn in the Tropics; the monolithic monograph on cigars, Holy Smoke; and the collected prose, Mea Cuba. The theme that no exile, however prolonged, can banish is a Habanera, a lament without reconciliation that contains the deaths of friends, many by their own hand, the treacheries inherent in every revolution, and the sordid banality that, Cabrera Infante thinks, has been made of Cuban life.

In a dictatorship there is only one authorized autobiography, the dictator’s. But exile produces what was conceptually forbidden, the “I” that is more important than the surveillance “eye.” Cabrera Infante’s autobiographical collection is called Mea Cuba except Cuba is not his but Fidel Castro’s.

Cabrera Infante left Cuba on October 3, 1965, his flight being a real flight (by plane for Belgium) and a very moving one. His journalism is solid in recounting the horror and the pain of Castro’s Cuba. In the longer pieces he writes with the conviction of a novelist:

Now, outside the funeral home, after the condolences, [the writer Carlos] Franqui came up, conversed and continued then towards the wake. Gustavo [Arcos, the Cuban ambassador to Belgium] assured me that Franqui was crazy. I didn’t know what he meant….

The next day I went to the ministry for consultations with Minister Roa. Roa said to me, after polishing his shoes on his trouser legs several times: “Chico, what’s your opinion of Arcos? Is he or isn’t he a drunk?” I told him the only thing I could tell him: the truth. No, Arcos wasn’t a drunk. I had never seen him drunk. He drank, yes, once in a while some wine with his meals, which is a European custom. “But, you’ve lived in the embassy,” insisted Roa. I never saw him drunk. Not one time, not once. Not even tipsy. “Well,” said Roa, “I was misinformed.”

This seems to owe much, in the purity of its repetition, to the early work of that honorary Cuban, Ernest Hemingway. “I was misinformed” is also a line from Casablanca, when one character says he came to the desert city for the waters.

Under a political tyranny none of us knows for what crime we might be tried. Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who translates his own work into English, could be charged with relentless punning. “Silence, exile and cunning” is the well-deep and well-known vow taken by Stephen Daedalus as he leaves his island, Ireland (almost a pun, note), but Cabrera Infante, another artificer and islander, seems to have taken a vow that is almost the opposite of Joyce’s hero, “Loquacity, exile, and punning.” In Mea Cuba he calls the dictatorship from which he fled “Castroenteritis.” Some more:

Fidel Castro, who as a university student was known by his classmates as el Gallego (the Galician), was actually a Spaniard in the works i.e. a “spanner.”

It could not have happened under General Machado—Machado about Nothing.

Sometimes the puns have illuminating flashes: “Castro is a poor Marxman posing as a sniper.”


Even in his journalism he is an incorrigibly outrageous punster, as in a review of two film dictionaries, one by Ephraim Katz, the other by David Thomson, whose book “has even more lives than Katz, but unlike Katz, Thomson is a killer with a deus ex machine-gun.” “We, the sons of Lumière…,” “Paradise is only a pair of dice.” The mental jabbing and its accompanying chuckle can make one feel the irritation of Lear at his Fool. “Sent to Siberia on Iberia.” “The Jews who engendered the Wandering Jew, from among them rose Jewlysses.” In Holy Smoke, his book on cigars: “an everyday phoenix gone astray.”

The puns are not like those of Finnegans Wake. They are not multi-layered and not a language of their own. Punning is based not merely on familiarity with a language but on something close to contempt for it. Perhaps even the self-contempt of immigrant embarrassment. He writes:

In another place, in another book Borges speaks, not without reason, about how a synonym is only the intent to change ideas merely by a change of sound. He ascribes it to Spanish and the Spaniards, but that pretence, I well know, occurs in other languages. (Or at least in the three languages that I can read without moving my lips.)

Every sentence carries an echo and that echo is to some extent a pun since its exactness has a different pitch and another function, even if it carries the same meaning; every written word has its shadow, and it is in this territory, Borgesian but less literary and more cinematic, that Cabrera Infante is both amusing and frightening.

In an essay on the opportunism of the painter Jacques-Louis David, Ca-brera Infante writes of how David depicts Napoleon as he “daringly crosses the Alps on a spirited charger—what was actually a short crossing by mule.” The magnification from mule to horse by the fiction of paint is a sort of pun. This may be as true for Cabrera Infante’s David as it is for García Márquez and his glorification of the Napoleon of the Sierra Maestra, Fidel Castro. Obscene as sycophancy is, it has been practiced by court poets or even tribal ones since the birthday of power.

Alongside his reportage on Castro’s Cuba, as we read it, is a margin of fear, a shadow parallel to the sad text, the soundtrack of a written documentary in which issues are seen in black and white. For the honesty of its details, Mea Cuba is inestimably important. There are some writers in whom the combination of journalism and fiction contains an indistinguishable excitement: Hemingway, Dickens, Naipaul, Greene, and Cabrera Infante. The power of Cabrera Infante’s journalistic prose is that it is not polemical dissent but devastating common sense that makes authority absurd. Its relentless testimony against Communist catechism—the catechism’s polysyllabic pomposities, its concrete, inflexible syntax—is richer than Orwell’s dissent in its humorous pitch, its giggles of disagreement, and its pitch of continuous parody, which seems to me particularly Caribbean, but also particularly Spanish in its picong, the Trinidadian word for satire. This is the source of Cabrera Infante’s insatiable punning. Its consequence is that it drives pomposity crazy; the revolution is not taken seriously, and such irreverence, as it is in any orthodoxy, including the Roman Catholic Church, is a blasphemy that has infernal consequences—such as banishment.

Cabrera Infante’s parents were founders of the Cuban Communist Party. A portrait of Stalin hung next to the effigy of Christ in their living room. In pre-Castro Cuba, Cabrera Infante was an editor, screenwriter, and film reviewer. Although he was a supporter of the revolution and a cultural ambassador under Castro’s regime, his magazine was censored, then shut down by the government. When he went into exile, Cabrera Infante became one of the earliest and most outspoken of Castro’s Cuban critics. In London he claims to be “the only English writer who writes in Cuban.” In 1997 he was awarded the Cervantes Prize by the Spanish Ministry of Culture.


His new book, Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá, is a multifaceted portrait of the city he left so long ago and a provocative stylistic experiment. In his prologue, Cabrera Infante explains how the collection should be approached:

The short stories you are about to read should comprise a reader. The three are trying to become, like the Trinity, one. This is not a demented holy writ, but the stories do form an anthology of sorts. They seem to converge because they actually share the same space at the same time: an impossibility in physics but not in fiction. Two are set in a Cuban restaurant at the end of the fifties. The third restaurant is more prestigious and more expensive, could cater to a coy and cozy clientele—richer yet poorer.

…The narrator is always looking into a rearview mirror. All his literary reflections come from the same book found in the Lost and Found Department. And the city is always the City.

Do I have to tell you that it is called Havana?

All three stories start with the same nameless man and woman eating together in a restaurant in late-Fifties Havana. All three are linked by Ca-brera Infante’s incorrigible punning and keen cinematic descriptions. The first and second stories, “The Great Ekbó” and “A Woman Saved from Drowning,” are very obviously of a piece, sharing much of the same dialogue and covering much of the same ground. But each of the three stories plays off their common premises to underscore very different sides of the man, the woman, and the city.


“All arts aspire to the condition of popular music,” he writes, and so these three stories are orchestrated to three different rhythms: “The Great Ekbó” to the Santería, “A Woman Saved from Drowning” to the bolero, and “Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá” to, of course, the chachachá. All three stories have the simultaneity of Cubist painting, of the same event or image seen from different angles at the same instant, of the one story told from different perspectives as in Kurosawa’s film Rashomon, to which the man in “The Great Ekbó” alludes.

In the first part of “The Great Ekbó,” the restaurant setting and terse, formal dialogue have the same subtle notation of repetition and silence as Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” It is as if the man and woman, who seem to be breaking up, are actors reciting sentences passed to them by the writer, with echo as effective as utterance:

“What are you thinking about?” she asked and her voice sounded strangely softly calmly….
“It’s not stopping,” she said, meaning the rain.
“Indeed it isn’t,” he said.
“Anything else?” said the waiter, coming back.
He looked at her, deferentially.
“No thank you,” she said to the waiter.
“And the bill.”
“Yes sir!”
“Are you going to smoke?”
“Yes,” he said. She loathed cigars.
“You do it on purpose.”
“You know I don’t. I do it because I like it.”
“It’s not good to do everything one likes.”
“Sometimes it is.”
“And sometimes it isn’t.”

The obliquity is like the faint music of a lounge piano. The meter of the conversation is like the tinkle of rain on the eaves. Then the rain becomes a deluge. The couple rise from their table to the orchestration of the now torrential downpour. They leave the restaurant. Both narration and dialogue preserve the sense of riddle, of enigma, not to them, who know who they are and what they are doing, but for us, his readers.

After a drive fraught with opaque references to past arguments and causes of pain, they arrive at the Great Ekbó of the story’s title, an African Santería ritual which, with its passionate, frenzied spirit, stands in sharp relief to the couple’s bloodless restaurant dialogue. In contrast with the narration of the first scene, the ceremony is described in prose that echoes the incantatory ritual, rushing forward without punctuation. While they watch as people “catch the spirit,” becoming possessed, the man informs the woman that she is incapable of being affected in the same way: “It’s only for the benighted. Not for people like you who have read Ibsen and Chekhov and know Tennessee Williams off by heart.”

Their reactions to the ritual reveal much about the couple: the man comes off at his worst—jaded, arrogant, and racist—while the woman is enthralled.

An old black woman approaches the man, wanting to speak to the young woman. He watches the young woman listen to her, looking down at the ground. When she comes back, he asks her, “What was that old nigger on to you about?”

She looked at him dourly.
“That old nigger, as you put it, is a great woman. She has lived a lot and knows a lot and if you really want to know she has just taught me something.”

The coloring of the story is the black and white of a Forties film: the heavy rain is gray, the tablecloths in the restaurants are white, as are the shirts of the waiters above their black trousers, as is the dress of the woman with her black hair; and just as white are the stones of the small cemetery and the dresses of the Santería celebrants and their turbans and white candles. They are “just like a convention of colored cooks,” the man thinks. But here innocence is not white and radiant like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, but gray as the rain and ambiguously heavy; the weather of dictatorship:

“Why do they dress in white?” she asked.
“They are worshipping Obbatala, the goddess of the pure and unblemished.”
“Then I can’t worship Obbatala,” she said perhaps as a joke.

Contagion is the theme of all three stories. Like the pillars of the city, the love in it feels infected, mildly feverish, and in the third story poisoned by mistrust and treachery.

The woman, we learn at the end, is also an actress; so here is yet another layer of unreality, of the convention of artifice which includes fiction (the story being told), love (which is shedding illusion and fantasy), and theater (more convincing in its suffering than ordinary reality).

“The Great Ekbó” ends back in the man’s car, after the actress, clearly changed by her encounter with the old woman, has insisted that they leave. After telling him to take her home, she returns two photos: one of a woman and one of a little boy with huge, solemn eyes and no smile. Is the boy the victim of their divorce, or dead, even? The uncertainty is haunting and the ending bleak. “I’d rather you kept them,” the woman says as she hands the photos over.

Story two, “A Woman Saved from Drowning,” begins:

It was raining again. The rain hit hard at the old sickly columns across the street. A man and a woman were out of reach of the rain because they were sitting in a restaurant, but the windowpanes were made opaque by rain and steam.

Compare this with his first story, which begins:

It was raining. The rain hit hard the old and sickly columns. A man and a woman were out of reach of the rain because they were sitting in a restaurant. The man was staring at the white tablecloth as if it had patterns.

It is as if the writer of the first story, having finished it, took a deep breath, began in almost an identical meter as the first story, but has begun to extend it in rhythm and in detail. The addition of “the windowpanes were made opaque by rain and steam” implies a new direction with its atmospheric details: what was cut out is restored, and this new expansiveness, this room for more descriptive breathing lengthens the dialogue and re-defines the characters. The terse, the tacit is becoming the repetitive, the redundant, and, maybe ultimately, the baroque; that is, we move from Hemingway to Faulkner.

Again, in story one: “The man was staring at the white tablecloth as if it had patterns.” In story two: “The woman was looking at the plain white tablecloth as if it had a pattern.”

These variations of chords, of colors are subtly calculated. The second story almost reads like a rewrite, which it is not; it has a deeper purpose, of questioning the concept of authorial authority, of fictional truth. A shift of tone makes the dialogue bitchier; the man has the jaded cruelty, the sarcastic, self-lacerating nastiness of the dying writer in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” But the unkillable punning resurfaces:

“To think that my mother predicted I would marry a small dark man who smoked cigars!”
“Your mother’s a sootsayer. All she got right was the cigar bit. For I’m not small but short and definitely the marrying kind.”

Everything in “A Woman Saved from Drowning” is a little riper, more richly described:

The smoke of the cigar, or half of it, steel blue as if coming from a smoking gun in the hand of the murderer, his victim not yet on the floor but falling—falling down as all dead bodies fall. The fruity fresh air from the terminally ill square reached him through the shroud of rain.

Besides these more subtle variations in description and dialogue, “A Woman Saved from Drowning” omits the dramatic denouement of “The Great Ekbó”‘s Santería ritual. The couple here remain in the restaurant throughout the story, their dialogue echoing the boleros that play from the radio in the background.

The story’s climax comes instead with the man’s tale of a rich American tourist who, disregarding local advice, insists on leaving her hotel during a downpour and disappears forever down a manhole. “The woman, our woman, [sits] on the edge of her chair” through the story but, after their dialogue eventually devolves into another fight, gets up to do her own “disappearing act” and leaves the restaurant alone into the rain. Another bleak ending.

Cabrera Infante is not the first writer to give the popular mythology of movies the authority and influence that it has on fiction, to accept and pay homage to its icons as if they were from a classical encyclopedia. Joyce wanted to manage a movie house. Ca-brera Infante has written film scripts and reviewed movies, and the presence, not merely the influence, of the camera is in these three stories. Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Warner Brothers replace Bullfinch’s Mythology.

In Infante’s Inferno the narrator remembers

the first time I went to the movies during the day, I underwent the marvelous act of passing from the vertical blinding afternoon sun, into the theater that was blinded throughout except for the screen, the luminous horizon, my eyes flying like moths to the fascinating fountain of light.

He writes with the presumption that the reader is also a fan of movies, whose classics are a given in a modern education, one who knows not only the stars but the lesser lights of satellite character actors. In Infante’s Inferno, introducing his father’s best Havana friend, a bus conductor and clandestine Communist, he writes, “He looked in fact like William Demarest”—a comparison that is instantaneously convincing.

The heavy in the third and title story would have been played by Sydney Greenstreet or by his lesser version, Laird Cregar, with atrabilious malevolence but without the suavity. “Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá,” despite beginning with the same man and woman, is a marked departure stylistically and thematically from the first two. The actress is a much more minor presence here, leaving the man almost immediately at the restaurant—this time affectionately, and only after making sure that he will be waiting for her when her play is finished. The rest of the story is the man’s alone and the narration reflects this, having shifted from “the third person singular [of the first two stories] to a singular first person,” as Cabrera Infante explains in the prologue. As a result of this change in perspective, the man is at last sympathetic—more intimate and robust and less opaque and aloof, and, with a specific biography, to some extent a stand-in for Cabrera Infante himself.

After the actress leaves, the man spends most of the story ogling every beautiful woman who walks in, wondering how he will be able to marry each one. Between reveries, he receives unwanted visitors who drop by his table. The Havana in this story is a city of communism and censorship, and the narrative deals much more explicitly with the political climate of the early Castro era than do the first two stories. The man’s first visitor is an old acquaintance, an abrasive party hack who calls the narrator “Shakeprick” and a “bourjoy ineleckchual.” The narrator doesn’t respond but in one of the book’s strongest and most moving passages, he thinks:

I could have told him that I was a bourgeois who lived in a small town until I was twelve. Who moved with his Communist parents to Havana, physically, spiritually, and socially underdeveloped. Undafrivolous, as somebody said. With bad teeth in a poor mouth and with only the clothes I stood up in. Who lived the ten most important years of a man’s life—his adolescence or the beginning of my puberty that was an extension of my poverty—in a miserable tenement sharing with father, mother, brother, two uncles, a cousin, and a grandmother, plus the occasional visit from relatives from home town, a single room (rather like Groucho’s cabin) our only home…. Whose first reading was from books begged, borrowed, or stolen…. Who had to give up hope of a university career because the only salvation possible for his family depended on his taking a poorly paid, oppressive job: proofreading for a right-wing newspaper.

After finally shaking off this man, another visitor, a commissar (“comic czar,” Cabrera Infante can’t resist adding) of culture, heads his way, even less welcome than his predecessor. Spotting him, the narrator is reminded of “Mark Twain’s remark that a banker is somebody who lends out his brolly when the sun shines and reclaims it when the weather gets rough. I can think of nobody more like a banker than a commissar.” The narrator, it turns out, edits a literary supplement, which the commissar accuses of promoting art forms which flourished under imperialist influence.

The chachachá of the title comes up in this story not as a dance which the characters participate in or listen to but as a point in a political discussion. As the narrator says to his interlocutor,

This dance made by the people, for the people, and of the people,…that makes Negroes rock while it moves whites to try it, came into being about 1952, about the year Batista gave one of his trois coups…. The chachachá, like abstract art, like beatnik literature, like hermetic poetry, like jazz, of course—all are guilty art forms. Why? Because in a Communist state, everything and everybody is guilty. Nobody, nothing is free of guilt. Not even art, especially not art.

The story ends when another beautiful woman comes into the restaurant and the narrator thinks, “Should I marry Her?”

Each of the stories is a perfectly balanced minor masterpiece. But for its candor, its venomous bitterness, the third is the bravest in its pain. It is compressed but completely comprehensive, the prophecy of a forthcoming exile.

Yet the fact is that fiction only pretends to absolute truth, that a story, once it is written, is immediate artifice, that craft cannot be separated from cunning. It is not only the theatrical question of what is true that is posed in Cabrera Infante’s stories. What is true in fiction is what appeals to the harmony of a story, whereas what is the truth is another question, the inquiry of the law court and of the confessional. Every witness tells a different story, even the one that is true, and since the writer or narrator is simply another witness, there can be as many stories as there are witnesses, and each story set next to another will maintain its inaccuracies, its contradictory memories—“It was raining,” “It was bright sunlight,” “The waiter took the order quickly,” “No, the waiter was nostalgic.” The enigma here is not merely one of contradicting testimonies, like the ones in Rashomon; it is the enigma of all fiction, whose uncontradicting impressions are like those of an object seen not through the single lens of a camera but through the Argus-eye of a fly.

The contradictions among Cabrera Infante’s stories are irritating because we feel betrayed after putting all our trust in the first sentence of the first story or chapter, the one and only version that has seduced our belief; but the prose in the second story is just as good, even better in places, without being a revision and improvement of the first. Should the first be erased, forgotten? Do both stories have to be scrutinized for the evidence of lying and if they are not, then are there multiple truths in the two or three versions? Nor is it only a matter of questioning the authority, the vanity of fiction. Does the narrator come under a charge of lying, of treachery to the reader, and if the narrator is the writer and his fiction is contradictory testimony, then what about his politics?

A poem, because of its music, its meter, and its syllabic harmonies could not come under such a charge of chameleonic treachery. If it did it would have to change its music and it would thus be another, a different poem. Fiction in this case allows all three stories to be judges for all the qualities except truth, and perhaps that is Cabrera Infante’s point, that to tell one story one must tell three, not because there are three main characters, plus a fourth, himself, but because these variations (not orchestrations) represent the quest of that uncontradicting harmony that poetry provides.

The poetry that the fiction provides is in the incoherence of incantation at the African ceremony in the first story, where the narrative succumbs to the narcotic beat of drums and celebrants of Santería:

…and now the chanting reverberated against the wall olofi olofi sese maddie sese maddie and invaded the whole building and reached two black boys in baseball caps who listened and looked on as if unwilling to embrace something that was theirs and reached the other spectators and drowned the noise of the beer bottles and the glasses in the bar at the back and flowed down the steps of the stands and danced among the puddles in the baseball field and went on over the sodden outer fields….

But there is also a poetry that seems to owe a lot to Hemingway, not only to “Hills Like White Elephants,” but also to the long and beautiful passage on “Miró’s Spain” at the end of “Death in the Afternoon.”

Take another passage from the first story: “They ran to the car and they got in.” The detail is in the conjunction, the rhythm of two separate actions—not “they ran to the car and got in.” Mastery lies in small strokes, in the astonishment, that is in the veracity of the inconsequential. The author is his own masterly translator.

They ran to the car and they got in. For a moment he felt that the rarefied air pocket inside the car was going to smother him. But he settled himself in the small driver’s seat and started the engine. He pulled out.

The car left behind the narrow, meandering streets of downtown Havana, the old handsome houses, some of them mercilessly, crassly demolished and turned into car parks, even the Plaza Vieja destroyed to dig under it just one more car park, the intricate ironwork of the balconies (“This is a city of baroque balconies and flat rooftops,” he thought), the huge solid and stately Customs House, the muelle de Luz, and La Machina, giant wharfs both, and La Lonja, the stock exchange, then the Paula Promenade, prominent in the eighteenth century and now a faultless pastiche of itself, and the old church of Paula, its south end looking like a half-built Roman temple (or a preserved ruin) and the crumbling segments of the city wall with a tree growing on top, nature conquering the remnants of a fortress, the Tallapiedra powerhouse with its corrupt stench redolent of sulphur mines to give light to night life, and the Elevado, the elevated structure for toy trains, and Atares Castle looming in the rain, and the fly-over, dull and dour, let him see the amazing crisscross of railway lines down below and the electric cables and the telephone wires up above running like a horizontal rain, a maze without a Daedalus—and at last he came onto the open road, so propitious to flight for an Icarus without wings.

In each story the man is morally inert and politically cynical, without trust, and his attitude is experienced and jaded, while it conceals his cowardice, a blanched cowardice as white as the linen of the tablecloths or the costumes of the African ceremony that he mocks.

This whiteness, for me, contains dresses of Santería and Shango-Baptist, of folk dancers, of planters in linen suits, of walls and seaside cemeteries, the bravery of African emphasis black, not the color of cowardice, the spectral ceremony of candles and altars—the present maintains its transparencies behind which the black and white of the nineteenth-century print, or the black and white movie, keeps its outline and in many cases its texture, in the unchanging meter of palm fronds, monodic and durable in the scansion of breakers, even in their acceleration into gales and hurricanes; a different geography requires a different aesthetic. A different fiction. Three different fictions, in fact. These stones.

Nearly half a century has passed since Cabrera Infante’s exile. His malevolent enemy still rules Cuba and there is a generation which has known no other government. Fidel’s black beard, emblem of the guerrilla days in the Sierra Maestra, has whitened like a Swiss Alp, his step is shaky, and his audience gasped when he tottered at the microphone recently. He has survived assassinations and invasions, and he will survive the implacable contempt of Ca-brera Infante. Or maybe not, because the angry beauty of the three beautiful stories that make up this book is more permanent than any regime.

As they used to say in Cuba: “Nacer aquí es una fiesta innonbrable“—“To be born here is an unnameable feast.” Maybe they still do, but its greatest exile writes:

If I have lost a country I have gained new readers. To be Cuban is to be born in Cuba. To be Cuban is to go with Cuba everywhere. To be Cuban is to carry Cuba in a persistent memory. We all carry Cuba within like an unheard music, like a rare version of what we know by heart. Cuba is a paradise which we flee by trying to return.

This Issue

March 28, 2002