Writer Eliseo Alberto Diego’s Ashes to Be Scattered in Havana

Eliseo Alberto Diego, a Cuban-born writer living in Mexico, died last Sunday at a hospital just days after receiving a kidney transplant, reported the Mexican government’s National Institute of Fine Arts [see previous post Exiled Cuban writer Eliseo Alberto dies in Mexico]. Alberto, author of the award-winning novel Caracol Beach, worked many years as a journalist in his native Cuba before he moved to Mexico in 1990, receiving Mexican citizenship in 2000. His father, Eliseo Diego, is considered one of Cuba’s greatest writers and poets of the 20th century. Here are excerpts from the Miami Herald with a link to the full article below:

He died far from his beloved Havana. But Eliseo Alberto—one of the most critically acclaimed and storied of Cuba’s contemporary writers—came to embrace his adopted Mexico City as home, albeit with mournful nostalgia. “Exile is an obligatory state of sadness,” the 59-year-old essayist and novelist said, explaining the melancholy that permeated his prize-winning works and his conversations, whether he was at a book fair in Miami or holding court in his book-filled apartment.

[. . .] He came from a Havana family considered literary royalty — a clan of poets, artists, filmmakers and musicians. His father, Eliseo Diego, was one of the island’s most revered poets, and the tertulias, the literary gatherings at his home, were as legendary as their charming host. They would only end after Diego fell asleep in his chair and his wife, Bella García Marruz, took the burning cigarette from his hand and the empty glass of fiery aguardiente from his lap. [. . .]

In a groundbreaking book published three years after his father’s 1994 death, Informe contra mi mismo (Report Against Myself), Alberto revealed a more sinister side to the literary gatherings. In 1978, during his military service, a superior asked him to spy and report on the international visitors his father received. In particular he was to spy on the exiles from Miami who were for the first time being allowed to visit to the island. As part of this invitation to betrayal for the cause of the Revolution, he was shown copious reports the government had gathered about him and his family from neighbors and friends who had attended the tertulias. Despite a change of heart about leaving Cuba, the family had been suspect since Diego made arrangements in 1962 for the family to board a Havana-Miami flight. “Gossip as political methodology,” Alberto writes in Informe, an anguished and revealing chronicle of what his generation endured and how many of its members came to feel a profound disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution. The book was unprecedented in that Alberto made it clear he did not hold any grudges, was not passing judgment and had forgiven those who had reported on his family. He was trying to forgive himself, as well.

[. . .] In contrast to his stark testament of life on the island, Alberto’s novels were lush and wildly imagined works that transcended borders. He woke early to write by an open window as the sun rose, and after his father’s death, he acquired a new ritual: He started and ended every novel wearing a blue shirt and a watch inherited from Diego.

His novels were populated by colorful characters inspired by the streets of Havana he knew so well. In La eternidad por fin comienza un lunes (Eternity Finally Begins on a Monday), there’s Tartufo, the animal trainer who so loved his old lion (named Goldwyn Mayer) that he slept with him in his cage and is left bereft after the beast dies of indigestion. In La fábula de José ( José’s Fable), the protagonist is sentenced to live as the sample “homo sapiens” in a city zoo. And in his breakthrough novel, Caracol Beach, which won the prestigious international Alfaguara Prize in 1998 and was published in English in the United States, a war veteran with bleeding gums is haunted by visions of a winged Bengal tiger on the prowl. The novel is set in a fictional resort town in Florida.

“He yearned for Cuba, and his soul cried with childlike sentiment,” Nicaraguan novelist Sergio Ramírez declared in a eulogy for Alberto. The former Sandinista leader, also a frequent presence at the Miami Book Fair, called Alberto “my Siamese twin” because the two disillusioned revolutionaries shared the Alfaguara prize in its inaugural year.

Alberto also wrote poetry, television and movie scripts, most famously Guantanamera, a movie about the absurdity of Cuban bureaucracy. And he taught at film schools in Cuba and Mexico and at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute. “Saintly, sage, handsome, melancholic” is how Mexican author Angeles Mastretta described Alberto in her blog. “He leaves us his books and his passion for the best Cuba: for freedom, for poetry, for the sea.”

[. . .] An incessant smoker and heavy drinker, Alberto was diagnosed with renal failure in 2009. On July 18, he underwent a kidney transplant; days later, he went into respiratory and cardiac failure. Funeral services were held in Mexico City, where a throng of writers eulogized him, but his ashes will be flown to Havana, as was his wish.

For full articles, see http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/08/02/2348905_p2/with-cuban-author-eliseo-albertos.html and http://cubanexilequarter.blogspot.com/2011/08/eliseo-alberto-honest-man-who-spoke-out.html

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