A Few Words about Cuban Author Guillermo Cabrera Infante

By Alfredo Fernandez

Guillermo Cabrera Infante in London. File photo by Ulf Andersen / Getty Images

HAVANA TIMES – Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a.k.a. Cain, was the greatest writer Cuba ever had, in my opinion. He used to say that he didn’t have any problem with a blank page. Cain would say that his biggest challenge was a full page, as writing came easily to him, it was harder to edit, to find the right word, to write in better-flowing prose.

He had such a thing with editing that the master only wrote two books, as well as some short stories. The rest of his work is made up of essays, movie scripts and articles for newspapers and magazines. Humor was at the heart of his work, which was quite surprising given that he was quite a bitter man, with few friends.

Cain said that his literary influences were Lewis Carrol and Groucho Marx, the latter might be where his great sense of humor came from. I remember having read his “Mea Cuba” essay, to demonstrate Haydee Santamaria’s little culture, saying that she “thought that Marx and Engels were the same person, just like Ortega y Gaset.”

Cabrera Infante was a writer with a passion for film like Manuel Puig, the Argentinian writer, in his book “Havana for a late Infante” describes movie theaters in the city with great detail, their moves, and especially his love for the city.

Like a good eastern Cuban, Cain was fascinated by Havana, and there was good reason: Havana in the ‘40s and ‘50s had more movie theaters than New York and Paris. It also beat both cities in its number of bars. Life was for enjoying in that city.

At the Las Vegas club, the latest show in the world began, at 4 AM, and not with a singer with a guitar, I’m talking about a real show, with a full orchestra on stage and dance troupe. Of course, the club was always full, when the show was over, they would talk a little more, go outside and the younger ones would head to school, Cain said.

Nobody had as much fun in any other city in the world as Cain did in that Havana, where the Shanghai theater in the Little China neighborhood had the only transvestites show in the world at the time. Where neighborhood movie theaters were as good as the ones in Old Havana and Vedado.

I have heard many writers and critics say that if the Spanish language didn’t have Borges, then Cabrera Infante would be the most important writer in the 20th century. I don’t know whether that’s true, but Cain’s use of Spanish was great and, therefore, totally alive, which you would expect from a great writer.

His work still hasn’t been published in our country. He abandoned his post as a diplomat at the Cuban Embassy in Belgium in 1964 and has been ostracized ever since on the island, which makes him an even better writer, because his work has been deprived of its natural audience, Cubans.

A future Cuba has the inescapable task of returning a series of writers to its readers, who were taken from them. I’m also talking about Reinaldo Arenas, Carlos Victoria, Guillermo Rosales, the Abreu brothers and almost everything written by Zoe Valdes.

Every vindication on Cuba’s part will inevitably lead to a reconciliation with the country, with its ciudad letrada (lettered city).