Dutch anthology illustrates shifts in contemporary Cuban literature


A post by Peter Jordens.

Mark Weenink of La Chispa reports on a new anthology of contemporary Cuban literature translated into Dutch and published in the Netherlands. Here are excerpts of his article.

According to Nanne Timmer, Professor of Latin American Literature at the University of Leiden [the Netherlands], literature can contribute to a more nuanced view and better understanding of Cuba. She therefore compiled the anthology La Isla de Cuba: Twaalf verhalen & een revolutie [The Island of Cuba: Twelve Stories & a Revolution]. […] With this book she wants to reach Dutch readers outside the academic world. […] She has divided the twelve selected authors into two groups: those who began to publish after 1990 and those who began to publish after 2000. […]

Timmer: “People who were born in the seventies grew up during the dogmatic years of the Revolution. It was a time of literacy campaigns, rural themes, revolution, and contributing to social consciousness. Literature was inclined toward social realism. The writers who grew up in the seventies started to publish in the nineties. That is the period after the fall of the Berlin wall and collapse of the Soviet Union. Cuban literature began to shift. Authors started to experiment with freer literary work that was not social-realistic in nature but more geared to the individual and to the act of writing itself. […] That’s interesting from a literary perspective, because writers are not concerned about what the reader wants. Their goal is not a bestseller, but art. However, at the same time a group of authors surfaces that publish outside Cuba, creating a market based on the idea that “life is so hard here,” a bit of sex and some suffering added. That produces a nice cocktail of sex, poverty and politics – a tourist-oriented package. They comply with the expectations of the outside world, and it sells well.”

“The second group in the anthology is the generation that is born in the 1980s and that begins to write in the 21st century. “They are called the ‘generación zero’ in Cuban literary criticism. This group is more active online, with blogs and in independent journals. […] One of these authors is Orlando Luís Pardo Lazo. He was being considered for a literary prize in Cuba. But in the end, his book was not published because he was involved with the Revolution Evening Post, an online journal, and was deemed to be too politically outspoken. […] Critical books do get published, but perhaps only fifty copies, for reasons of ‘scarcity of paper.’ This way, they can say, ‘there is no censorship here.’ The state does a risk assessment by looking at what you do ‘oppositionally’ in the society, not at what you actually write.”

[…] “What makes Latin American literature special is that everything is possible. The anthology contains the story ‘Quince mil latas de atún y nada para abrirlas’ [Fifteen thousand tuna cans and nothing to open them with]. The main character approaches a publisher who no longer publishes books. He asks: ‘then what do you do?’ and they answer: ‘contraband in parts for making anything you want: an exit, a machine gun, anything.’ That is terribly illogical and it challenges your imagination. Playing with absurdity and credibility is very Latin American.” […]

“In spite or perhaps because of everything, literary life in Cuba is quite rich. People write a lot and it often get published in somewhat small quantities. How do they do that? It’s a pretty absurd situation. Publishers exist only through the state institutions, Letras Cubanas, and Unión Nacional de Escritores y Artistas de Cuba. These publishers do not really have a market, but because culture is subsidized, they are able to publish new authors. They publish a lot of work that would not easily get published elsewhere: work that would not be commercially viable. In Cuba it’s not about sales, it’s about the institution that publishes a book. Books are cheap and people can afford them. In addition, people lend or give each other books or exchange them. The informal market is definitely the largest. Everyone lends each other USB sticks that contain books in PDF format. There is no commercial market for literature, but there is a very active cultural field. Nowadays there are also more and more alternative ways to publish on blogs or via small, new, online publishers abroad.

For the complete, original article (in Dutch), go to http://www.lachispa.eu/artikelen/geen-toeristisch-pakketje-maar-kunst-om-de-kunst.


Twaalf verhalen en een revolutie

Nanne Timmer (Ed.)

Uitgeverij Marmer BV, March 2017

208 pages

ISBN 978-9-460683596


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s