By Irina Echarry
HAVANA TIMES, Feb. 14 — Thousands of people are turning out daily for the 19th edition of the Cuba International Book Fair as if it were a question of life or death, or as if by missing it they’d be committing some sort of crime. For most people, this reunion with Russia —this years guest country—, rekindles nostalgic memories.
Some, like Augusto, 47, evidence a kind of pride when viewing a portrait of Khrushchev standing alongside Fidel. In his mind, these are “memories of a time when we lived happily. Here we spoke of fighting the enemy, but at the same time we could dream. You have to understand, I studied in the USSR, I fell in love there and everything. Later I returned to Cuba because my life was here and because it was my duty to return to my country with the benefits of my studies.
“I’ve always considered myself a better person because I had the luck of studying engineering there… of seeing another world. Moscow is a beautiful city. As a result, my daughter is named Tatiana, after a woman I knew there. Life makes lots of twists, sometimes I wonder if I might see her again someday. You should note that I came to the Fair simply to recall those years, because the fact is that these books can be bought in any bookstore.”
At the Fair are emblematic posters of the first years of the Cuban Revolution, created in the style of socialist realism from the perspective of Russian artists, as well as story books, novels, scientific texts and technical manuals, books on animals and on flowers characteristic of the country. They all capture the interests of visitors to the expo.
Nilda, standing wistfully before photos of cosmonauts Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez and Yuri Romanenko, spoke about her son’s passion for the cosmos. “He wanted to be like them, to go higher and higher, to land on the moon. He had a notebook full of clippings from newspapers and the magazine Bohemia. He dreamt of those things. He envisioned discovering a new planet… Sure, the mind of a child is powerful. He wound up becoming a dentist, because who wants to be a cosmonaut here? It was only a dream…”
This was a dream that many Cuban boys and girls shared in the 70s and 80s. It was a time in which an optimistic phrase was repeated in schools: “The future belongs to us.”
That’s why Amilcar, 22, said his father had encouraged him to come to the Fair. “He told me the Russians had returned… he was hoping I’d find the future they promised us years ago, because I still haven’t seen it. Yet here I am, and I don’t like anything I see. I don’t even understand the language. I don’t think I’ll come back.”
At the Cuba International Book Fair the present merges with the past, and people continue dreaming of what’s to come. Perhaps it’s the search for the future that motivates the visitors who poke around in the hall dedicated to Russia.
They search for a future they might find in books, thumbing through thick novels by Cuban or Russian writers, or children’s stories and books on science and world art. It’s a good reason to attend the Cabaña sometime between now and Feb. 21st.
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