NYT’s list of 25 Great Books by Refugees in America includes 2 Caribbean writers


The complete list, assembled by Gal Beckerman, can be found here.

One way to regard the refugees in the news these frenzied past few days is as potential Americans, individuals and families escaping bad situations who imagine themselves building new lives here. What these particular refugees could become in this country, and how they could contribute to our society and culture, is a question stuck in suspended animation. But we do have the power to look to the past. And in the literary realm it’s unquestionable that refugees, once here, often make major contributions.

Through the 20th century and into this one, those fleeing political persecution or war have produced important works that we think of now as at least partly American, from fiction about the harrowing experiences of exile and dislocation to political treatises by thinkers who want to understand why their homelands fell apart.

Here are the two Caribbean writers:

Reinaldo Arenas, “Before Night Falls” (1992)
Country of origin: Cuba
Reasons for leaving: Imprisoned for his writing, he was able to emigrate to America as part of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980.

Published after his suicide in 1990, Arenas’s memoir tell his whole life story, from his impoverished youth all the way to his decision to kill himself. It’s also a tale of political disillusion and the pain of exile. Arenas was a true believer in Castro, but after being locked up for being gay he begins a process of losing more of himself, until he is left without a homeland.

Cristina Garcia, “Dreaming in Cuban” (1992)
Country of origin: Cuba
Reasons for leaving: Her family was among the first wave of people to escape from Cuba in 1961 shortly after Fidel Castro took power.

Garcia’s first novel looked at three generations of women exiled from Cuba, all with complex feelings about the country, from love and nostalgia to revulsion. For the daughter of a revolutionary, now living in New York, her memories are of being raped by one of Castro’s young followers. “She wants no part of Cuba,” Garcia writes of this young woman, “no part of its wretched carnival floats creaking with lies, no part of Cuba at all.”

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