Necessary Books

By Irina Echarry

 Entrance to last February’s Cuba International Book Fair at the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress overlooking Havana Bay.  Photo: Caridad
Entrance to last February’s Cuba International Book Fair at the San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress overlooking Havana Bay. Photo: Caridad

Under the title “A Very Necessary Book,” the newspaper Juventud Rebelde announced the publication of “Caravan of Freedom” by Casa Editora Abril publishing house, authored by Luis Baez and Pedro de la Hoz.  I haven’t read the book; I only know that it is a collection of previously published testimonies, interviews and memoirs about the great historical moment when the rebels entered Havana in January 1959. Of course it’s an important book.

But aren’t all books necessary?

Our publishing industry is obsessed with politics and war.  The titles published this year reflect the mentality of a totally self-contained island, where only the official voices are heard.

090902001pThe quality of literature is subject to ideological values.  The authors of the left, who support (blindly) the Cuban revolutionary process, have the doors open at our book institute- unlike authors who disagree with our form of government or those who prefer not to engage in radical political positions. These, although their prose may truly be a literary gem, have access to publication denied.

Who needs to read something like that in this country, the publishers might ask.

I am aware that at the annual book fair, a massive event each February that travels throughout the country, they also publish the classics of world literature, provided that “the decision makers” feel that the authors did not transgress correct ideological canons.

Most of the titles belong to established, consecrated names. Very little is known on the island about young authors from other countries, who recently began their literary career and might be as good as any.  Aren’t those books necessary?

Thousands of writers, poets, novelists, essayists, young and not so young, who dedicated themselves to writing literature employing all dimensions of the word, with the freedoms and experiences gained or lost throughout life wait patiently for their work to see the light of day.

Meanwhile, political or historical texts are for sale, as if our people only had the right to read what someone determines to be politically correct.

“Diccionario del pensamiento de Fidel” (Dictionary of Fidel’s thoughts); “Una historia fascinante: La conspiración trujillista” (A fascinating story: The Trujillo conspiracy); “La madrugada de los perros” (The dawn of the dogs [about the events at the nautical base at Tarara beach on January 9, 1992], “La guerra secreta: Proyecto Cuba; El general Fabián Escalante” (The Secret War: Cuba Project, General Fabian Escalante), etc …

Didn’t we Cuban readers learn that a book is the best companion?  Are the only ones of value history books or those on politics?  Or perhaps the publishing industry has been typecast and someday will react?

Published poetry shouldn’t only be about a revolutionary hero jailed in the United States or about Nicolas Guillen or Villena.  There are poets today who are doing good work, living in the present and expressing their experiences in words. There are also authentic novels by Cubans living on or off the island, who tell another story about the country, waiting to be recognized.  These, too, are necessary books.