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May 2005

Close, But No Cigar

No longer exactly contraband in the U.S. (see guest editor Esther Allen's recent essay), Cuban authors still tweak authority and flirt with danger. Norberto Fuentes enters the inner life of the dictator in his irreverent "Autobiography of Fidel Castro"; the opposition journalist and poet Raúl Rivero considers tyranny, fidelity, and homeland; Francisco García González hops a truck packed with hitchhikers and fantasies; Leonardo Padura follows a disgraced journalist longing for the sensual Venus of Velázquez; José Manuel Prieto presents a socialist's self-described study of frivolity; Sonia Bravo's Fidelista looks back at her spartan lifetime of loyalty; and Eduardo del Llano's young writer-protagonist discovers his unlikely name's already in use as a pseudonym. Warmest thanks to guest co-editors Jacqueline Loss and Esther Whitfield, whose great expertise and years of dedication to the promotion of Cuban literature have contributed enormously to this issue. And after the success of our live forums last month (still open! read and contribute here), come back to this space on Wednesday, May 18, at 3:00 EDT for a forum with Norman Manea on the importance and difficulties of literary translations, particularly (but not only) in a closed society.

Image courtesy of Bart Friedman

A Letter to Ernesto Sábato
Author's note Ernesto Sábato's novel Abaddón el exterminador (1974) includes a dense epistolary chapter addressed to a virtual fellow writer, which begins “Dear, distant young…
Translated from Romanian
The Black Storyteller
By Najem Wali
If you believe my grandmother’s version of the story, then her mother-my great-grandmother Rose Garden-must have been fifty years old when she finally decided to live with “Black Anees”…
Translated from Arabic by Jennifer Kaplan
Where I used to dwell in my autumn, with my rags and I say dwelled because I felt alive inside there as never before. Where I used to inhabit tremulous, subtle and I was recognized by my sinews and my…
Translated from Spanish
I Don’t Want Anyone Coming around to Save Me
By Raúl Rivero
I don't want anyone coming around to save me So, whoever is sending me those nice thoughts, those smug little messages, –take it elsewhere. Cut off the oxygen now. I don't want to suffer…
Translated from Spanish by Diana Alvarez-Amell
Puerta de Alcalá
By Leonardo Padura
It loved to happen. -Marcus Aurelius (Written over the doorway to Seymour and Buddy Glass’s bedroom in J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey)He had always heard that to name disasters was sure…
Translated from Spanish by Claudia Lightfoot
You Don’t Have to Reach Heaven
By Francisco García González
The sun reflects off the asphalt. For the hundredth time, Ishmael shades his eyes with his hand to his visor, and he sees the truck.“Five!” calls out the amarillo.1The couple climbs on, the…
Translated from Spanish by Mary G. Berg
High Fidelity
They'll be free from the gramophone's pain, its torture from the rub and the needles. Chaste, they'll not know the sin of singing a capella while hungry caught between the farce and the fair.…
Translated from Spanish
You Know My Name
By Eduardo del Llano
In February, during the Book Fair, my first novel was published. It merited two reviews, one in the May-June issue of El Caimán Barbudo, and the other in La Gaceta of July-August. The first was wary:…
Translated from Spanish by Cola Franzen
Family Picture in Havana
By Raúl Rivero
Mom and I are alone once again the same as it was at the end of the forties. Alone, in a house that's not our own, we tell each other last night's dreams (in hers two old people are always crying…
Translated from Spanish by Diana Alvarez-Amell
On Tyranny
The one that's out there in the street, out there in the country, the rough and vehement tyranny, that governs my life as a citizen that one will pass because it punishes my body, but does not have…
Translated from Spanish
Why do I have to die, Adelaida, in this jungle where I myself fed the wild animals where I hear even my own voice in the awful chorus of the street. Why here where we wanted trees but ended up with vines…
Translated from Spanish
I Am Spartan
By Sonia Bravo
To you, my friendSpartan, Sofia said to Sandra, reminding her of snowbound icy Moscow where she was trained as a StalinistFidelistaSpartan in long lines at thirty below zero with ever-enraged watchmen…
Translated from Spanish by Nancy Festinger
You’ve Never Seen Red Like This Before
By José Manuel Prieto
IAt ten o’clock on a fine sunny morning I went out for a stroll and, as luck would have it, ran into Marina in front of the big department stores in the city center. My friend was wearing a magnificent…
Translated from Spanish by Esther Allen
from Chapter 1, The Autobiography of Fidel Castro
By Norberto Fuentes
This is the bucolic and archetypal Cuban landscape that I myself will destroy thirty years hence.
Translated from Spanish by Anna Kushner
Should Americans Read More Literature in Translation?
Should Americans read more world literature to rip away the blinders we so often wear when it comes to those who are “not like us”? “Yes” is the quick answer, the answer that salves…
“God, It’s as Though You’re Sewing a Dress For a Flea”
By Hanan al-Shaykh
I gather up my courage and decide to throw a “reception day” in the tradition of most wealthy, middle-class women who are proud of their lineage and upbringing, or, who are, like me, enamored…
Translated from Arabic by Randa Jarrar