A Too Expensive Book

Osmel Almaguer

Scene from this year's International Book Fair. Photo: Irina Echarry

There I was in the presentation of a book about the 1931 Spanish Revolution. The presenter was a Madrid-based member of the Friedrich Engels Foundation, the organization that published the work.

This foundation arose in 1987 with the objective of defending and spreading the ideas of revolutionary Marxism in a period in which these concepts — though their defenders have tried by all possible means to avoid using the term “crisis” — are in a difficult moment.

To begin his discussion about the need to bring socialism to Spain, this person delivered his arguments and chronicled the successive revolutions that have occurred there since 1873.

He described the process of the impoverishment of the working class and proposed — as the sole solution — that workers take control over the economy in each of their countries.

Before finishing, the presenter proposed the sale of the book.   His copy had a plastic jacket, was of a good size and thickness, and was printed on quality paper.

He placed the book on the table as an exhibit, and after him came another group of the same type of people, though they seemed to be there to sell the work.

I immediately thought of buying one as a gift for my father, who likes those types of themes a lot.  But then I began to think about how much they would ask for it.  Mentally I set my limit at 25 pesos, the equivalent of one CUC (or about $1 USD).

As soon as I had the opportunity, I asked the presenter about the cost.  The man sighed, thought for a minute, and then began a new discussion about the costs of the book.  He gave plenty of details about the budgetary particularities of his foundation, until he finally got around to the blessed price of each copy.

“A hundred pesos,” he finally said.  But no matter how much I thought about it, I couldn’t figure out how I’d be able to get this book for my father.  A hundred pesos (US $5) is simply a staggering price for a book in Cuba, where the average wage is US $20 a month.

Here in Cuba the government subsidizes book production. It allocates money for publications with revenue brought in by other art forms that bring in more, such as music and the visual arts.

I didn’t know how to explain this to the perplexed vender-exhibitor, who watched how the few people in the hall simply got up and left, without saying a word.