Fiction can comfortably contain ambiguity; its flesh and blood creations can make no sense, contradict themselves, and in be- ing fully human, represent experience to us in ways that opinion or analysis can not.
In the West, Cuba has become a state of mind more than a real place, a can- vas onto which people paint their ideologies and dreams. How to commission an issue of Litro that speaks of Cuba, without choosing a point of view? How to contain the multiple voices that claim her? In editing Litro Cuba I have been fortunate to work with some of today’s finest Cuban writers of fiction—both on and off the island—whose work placed side by side offers a mosaic of experience, a truer representation of reality than any single point of view could do.
These are all Cuban voices, to which I have added an outsider’s perspective— one story from my own collection, Breathe, published this year in London by flipped eye, which I wrote while living in Cuba be- tween 2000 and 2006.
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo’s Havana Hemicrania was written during the never-ending nights of his first, exiled, winter in Reykjavik. He was missing the excess of light in Cuba. He was missing the excess of language. He was missing the violence of the Revolution as the measure of all things, including love and the loss of love. Detained in Cuba three times for his political activism, Luis Pardo was now free, yet held in time, memory and nightmare. Exile’s lacerating pain—the further he is from Cuba the more he feels her—is expressed in his story’s scream.
In Losing Twice, leading Cuban short story writer Aida Bahr takes us to Santiago, in Cuba’s East, where she makes her home. We are in the ‘80s, Cuba’s gold- en age, before the loss of Soviet subsidies, economic collapse and the Special Period of the following decade. Food is cheap, mostly ration-free; people take holidays and buy consumer goods. Bahr’s is a con dent Cuba, her narrator an emancipated, revolutionary woman, looking to rekindle old love.
Portugal-based Karla Suarez was a leading figure in the Cuban arts scene before her departure in the late 1990s. Ravings is a voice from the Special Period itself—the ‘90s, when economic crisis disrupted and re-formed Cuban society. The dollar began to circulate alongside the Cuban peso, and the country was divided into those who had dollars, and those who did not. Suarez’s fevered voice is that of an older generation, revolutionaries who had worked to build a society that the ‘90s shattered. Set at the end of that decade, the story is a sneak-preview of what was to come.
In Someone’s Stolen the Cockatiels, Havana resident Dazra Novak, one of Cuba’s strongest young voices, shows us the Cuba of today. Novak’s Cuba is a place of harsh economic necessity where people concern themselves most with practical things. Material problems weigh heavily and people dream less. Within this difficulty, though, Novak’s characters can find happiness for no reason.
Luca’s Trip to Havana, my own story, brings us to the early 2000s; the power of the dollar is all too apparent and tourism, an economic necessity accepted with reluctance by the state, has exacted a high price. Luca, a European businessman, lusts after a young Cuban employee at his Havana hotel—the power differential between visitor and Cuban creates complex dynamics and the potential for mutual exploitation.
Ihoeldis M. Rodriguez’s two flash fiction pieces, How to Play and Last Wish, were conceived in Cuba and written in Miami, where he has lived for the last year. Both describe characters caught in an absurd situation, which ultimately condemns them.
But with neither piece located in any geographical or literary place, Rodriguez leaves us guessing: is it life in Cuba, or in ‘La Yu- ma’ (the U.S.) that is absurd.
Cuban-American artist and writer Coco Fusco explores the intersection between art and activism in her essay Taste as a Political Matter, while Havana poet Omar Pérez discusses improvisation in Off the Page. Geandy Pavon contributes a series of photographs on displacement and longing, The Cuban-Americans; and our Q&A is with Cuban classical guitarist Ahmed Dickinson Cárdenas, on bridging cultures.
Litro Cuba comes at a moment when interest in Cuba high, as the world watches the drama of change unfolding there. Cuba stubbornly holds onto the hearts of those who have left her, but for those who remain, the struggle is most of all to make sense of an uncertain, rapidly changing landscape. I hope that the following pages will allow you to join them on their journey.