Mirta Yáñez’s Havana Is a Really Big City and Other Stories

Cuban writer Mirta Yáñez is about to publish the first collection of her work in English. The book, forthcoming this October, is described in the publisher’s site thus:

Poet, novelist, critic, and extraordinary writer of short fiction, MirtaYañez also has worked extensively compiling anthologies of contemporary Cuban women writers.  Her narrative stands out by virtue of a complex yet unmistakable Cuban flavor and a characteristic preoccupation with the social, political, and economic particularities of the island and how these affect los cubanos. Catherine Davies has called Yañez one of the “most outstanding short story writers” among Cuban women.  This groundbreaking collection of her work, most of which is available for the first time in English translation, includes La habana es una ciudad bien grande in its entirety as well as selected stories from Todos los negros tomamos café, El diablo son las cosas, Narraciones desordenadas e incompletas and Falsos documentos.

In a manner of speaking Yañez’s earliest works reflect an ethic and aesthetic prevalent in Cuba the first decades after the Revolution.  Still enamoured of her island, albeit cognizant of its difficulties, Yañez swears she will die there.  Like Edmundo Desnoes and others, she defends certain social and economic principles that underlie Cuban culture and politics, simultaneously suggesting that Cuba has been slower to respond to the human need for intense personal and individual creative development.  Predictably, this has never stopped her.  Catherine Davies comments that “Yañez’s stories confirm and reinforce dominant systems of thought […], but at the same time a distinctly feminist agenda can be discerned” (A Place 149).  Indeed, a feminist perspective is present throughout her work, but in the best sense of the word: Yañez brings a critical and analytical gaze to rest on the culture and society that surrounds her.  Her fictional world is complex, her characters are in conflict with themselves and the human condition.  However much an ideology or code of ethics might inform her work, Yañez has always –subtly, yet insistently– questioned and undercut the myth that any official discourse is infallible.  Themes of class, race, gender, and sexuality are artfully interwoven in humorous and poignant narratives that make the reader pause to rethink her/his views or assumptions about Cuba and about life.

What will become clear as the reader makes her/his way through this collection of short stories is that Yañez has always had her own way of thinking, of perceiving and depicting the world around her, a sensibility that has not always made life easy for her. Nevertheless, Yañez denies that her work is really daring.  “Daring is only when you are afraid.  I’m not afraid–I have nothing to lose.  I don’t have an official position. . . .  What are they going to do, not publish me?  They’re not going to stop publishing me.  And they’re not going to lynch me from the nearest tree” (Cooper).  A true daughter of the Revolution, Mirta Yáñez’s voice continues to ring out against a static acceptance, and for change.  Important to note is that her stories most definitely do not attempt to undermine the validity of the Cuban political system, but do include a heightened sense of irony and criticism of the parts of the system that don’t work.  Similarly, she does not employ a strident feminism or activist stance in any way–her individual perceptions supercede any ideology or imposed critical framework.  As such, her voice is not that of a disenfranchised minority struggling to figure out who she is or to fit into a society that keeps her on the periphery. One does not sense in her narrative a battle cry or an appeal for pity.   On the contrary, Mirta Yañez’s voice is that of a powerful, opinionated, educated, Cuban woman, comfortable and sure in her gender, sexuality, and national identity.  Her stories reflect the absence of limitations that only such an internal certainty can confer.  Wherever her tales may be situated, whatever gender their protagonists may have, they speak to universal issues as well as the reality of the Cuban woman.  Her different way of thinking has allowed her to sculpt a personal and political sensibility that narrates the humorous, the tragic, and the inspirational of her own experience without restricting herself to the autobiographic.

Translations for this collection were rendered by Sara E. Cooper, Victoria McCard,and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert.

For more information go to http://www.csuchico.edu/cubanabooks/cubanabooks_bookpage_havana_is_a_really_big_city.htm

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