Two languages, better than one: Review of “Sin lengua, deslenguado”


In “Dos lenguas, mejor que una”  [Two Languages, Better Than One] Carlos Espinosa Domínguez reviews Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s Sin lengua, deslenguado (2017), saying that the recent publication “allows access to a poetic work that represents one of the best achievements of Cuban-American literature and an author who is one of its essential references.”  [See previous post Forthcoming: Gustavo Perez Firmat’s “Sin lengua, deslenguado”.]  Here are excerpts from the review, published in Cubaencuentro (27 October 2017):

Referring to his bilingual status, Gustavo Pérez Firmat commented: “My destiny—or my mistake—is to write in English with a Cuban accent and write Spanish with a certain Yanki inflection. So be it.” The truth is that beyond what represents a contradiction for him, he writes in both languages with equal mastery and moves from one to another with total comfort. Thus, after publishing several titles in English, he returned to his mother tongue with El año que viene estamos en Cuba (1997), release marks two decades ago. [. . .] Unlike Life on the Hyphen, El año que viene estamos en Cuba is not an essay, but rather an autobiographical testimony. [. . .]

[. . .] Sin lengua, deslenguado (Ediciones Cátedra, Madrid, 2017, 292 pages) [. . .] is an anthology of his poetic production (edited by Yannelis Aparicio and Ángel Esteban), which gathers poems written in both English and Spanish; the latter are included in bilingual versions. There are also texts that combine both languages ​​and even some that include details in Spanglish.

For Pérez Firmat, having been incorporated into a collection such as Letras Hispánicas represents a very significant recognition. We must remember that the most relevant authors of literature written in Spanish appear in it. He thus happens to be in the company of Virgilio Piñera, Miguel de Carrión, Reinaldo Arenas, José Martí, Alejo Carpentier, José Lezama Lima, Severo Sarduy, Cirilo Villaverde, Nicolás Guillén, Fernando Ortiz, and José Triana, Cubans who have been part of the academic catalog. This led me to ask him how it feels to be part of such a select list. This was his answer: “What do I feel? I am flattered, of course, although I know that I do not deserve membership in that club, and [I know] that there are many Cuban writers who should be there and are not. However, I am not going to ask to be removed either. On other occasions, I have said that I am not a writer by vocation but rather by mistake, and this time, the mistake is in my favor.”

Reading Sin lengua, deslenguado after El año que viene estamos en Cuba, is much more logical than one might think. It is not very often that the reflective work of an author is intimately linked to his creative work, to the point of integrating both in a coherent whole (think, for example, of Umberto Eco). That peculiarity occurs in Pérez Firmat. A fact that confirms this is that the compilers of Sin lengua, deslenguado have included, along with texts from his five poetry collections—Carolina Cuban (1987), Equivocaciones (1989), Bilingual Blues (1995), Scar Tissue (2005) ), The Last Exile (2016)—others that come from Life on the Hyphen (1994), Vidas en vilo (2000), and Cincuenta lecciones de exilio y desexilio (2000), which are essay collections.

As soon as one begins to read Sin lengua, deslenguado, we see the themes and motives that are dominant and recurrent in this author’s work: bilingualism, exile, the melancholy of the exiled, feelings of not belonging. [. . .]

For full article, see

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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