5 books for Summer reading on Cuban culture

We recommend these 5 books for your Summer reading on Cuban culture – from short fiction to history, testimonial to poetry

Ophelias – Ofelias by Aida Bahr

This set of 8 short stories won writer, Aida Bahr, the Alejo Carpentier Short Story Prize and the National Critics prize when first published in Cuba.

Each of Bahr’s re-imagined 21st century Ophelias is a female protagonist being pushed to the edge of madness. One has misplaced her baby and doesn’t know what to tell the police, one is about to kill her racist and controlling father; a young university teacher struggles with a bullying mother; a teenager is determined to impress her boyfriend; a woman whose husband has just died wonders how well she knew him; a young girl is left with her terrifying great grandmother in the middle of nowhere.

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The Book of Havana – a city in short fiction

The editor of these 10 short stories by Cuban writers describes the essence as “physical, emotional and psychological deterioration”. But this book actually reveals a short story scene that is full of life – with different styles, observation points, approaches and ages of writers as well as different views of the city.

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Yoruba from Cuba – Selected Poems by Nicolas Guillen

Dual language collection of poems by Cuba’s national poet Nicolas Guillen who before and after the revolution was a pioneer in embracing the African identity in Cuba. The selection covers the range of Guillén’s work from Poemas de Transición (1927-1931) up to poems from La Rueda Dentada and El Diario que a Diario, in 1972. Includes a preface by the translator and an introduction by the distinguished scholar of Cuban culture, Professor Alistair Hennessy.

‘The superb translations by Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres are set alongside the original poems in Spanish and capture Guillén’s pioneering use of language and the magical rhythms of Cuban music. Both were key to Guillén’s attempt to create a national poetry, during a time when Black identity was denied a voice in a country striving for white ‘purity’.

This collection ranges across Guillén’s entire oeuvre and is utterly relevant for our times, showing that from his earliest work onwards he constantly returned to themes of race and the historical legacies of colonialism and slavery, both in the Caribbean and the USA.’

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Biography of a Runaway Slave

Compelling life story of Esteban Montejo, a cimarrón, or runaway slave, who shared his story with Cuban writer Miguel Barnet in this “testimony” to living in slavery, brutal racism and fighting in the Cuban War of Independence. Translated into English.

‘Esteban Montejo discussed his past with Miguel Barnet in taped interviews carried out in 1963. At the age of 103, Montejo understood that the he was the sole living runaway slave on the island of Cuba and that his words and memories might be considered important enough to be published. For that reason, he delved into topics of particular interest both to himself and to the interviewer, Barnet. These included forms of African religious expression and Montejo’s recollections of life as a fugitive slave hiding for several years in the forests of Cuba. The narrative also includes his remembrances of the Cuban War for Independence and the subsequent presence of American troops as an army of occupation in Cuba.’

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Ten Days in Harlem: Fidel Castro and the making of the 1960s By Simon Hall

A fascinating book on how the Cuban delegation to the United Nations in 1960 were received when they stayed in Harlem, USA and put a global spotlight on America’s racism.

‘Professor of Modern History at Leeds University Simon Hall describes 18-28 September 1960 as “10 days that launched the 60s and changed the world.” Covering the days in detail over ten chapters, he uses extensive research to create a fast-moving and detailed picture of both the minutiae of the days and the world politics that was being remade. The story he weaves does justice to the New Yorker’s description of the ten days as a script “no sensible playwright would dare to compose.”’

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