By Maykel Paneque
HAVANA TIMES — Yesterday, I went to another cultural event that takes places in Cuba every year in July and August, on the central 23rd Avenue in Havana’s Vedado district, which goes by the name of “Lecturas de Verano” (Summer Readings). More specifically, I went to the presentation of the Alguien te mira (Somebody is watching you), by writer Luis Alfredo Vaillant Rebollar, published by Ediciones Montecallado, and which received a prize in 2016 for fiction.
The first thing that captures your attention about this book is its cover, a shocking photo by Nonardo Perea which speaks for itself and doesn’t need any explanation.
These days, a flood of information about the upcoming elections in Cuba has begun, where the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution are carrying out spy work and controlling from the ground (that’s to say, the neighborhood). With that in mind, commenting on a disturbing book which digs into the fate of several Cuban characters, a fate which is sometimes so tormented that many of these characters choose death as a way to escape their anguish and misfortune, is very important.
Going into Alguien te mira, is to also to go deep into a truth: we are all being spied on, constantly watched, something which we already know, but it’s never too much to capture this in literature.
Ever since he wrote his first book of short stories, Naufragos, published by Ediciones Union in 2006, Vaillant Rebollar has been offering the paths where his literature would be steered towards. His characters, humans drifting with little hope, live pressured lives because of extreme situations and the senselessness in a society which suffocates them and condemns them to commit illicit activities and go into exile a lot of the time.
Now, with Alguien te mira, Vaillant returns to explore his great obsessions: death, the city and marginalization. These obsessions take place in “a city which can be full of murderers and anyone can be the victim waiting in a dark corner.” It’s a city which is almost always named, and is Havana, “which dies and moves like every city and is a labyrinth at the same time,” a city where life, of the characters and our own also, “is being analyzed as if we were guinea pigs.”
However, death, the city and marginalization have allies, which aren’t always welcome, and have become transformed into the writer’s own obsessions: fear, paranoia, the daily suspicion of having to breathe between threats, the secret conspiracy plotted based on surveillance to silence and destroy us.
What justifies stalking, uneasiness, crime? What are we talking about when we speak about persecution, self-imposed exile, survival and survivors? Are sex, rum, hypocrisy the real incentives to escape from the breaking down of dreams and facing consummate lies that drown them? What do you do with simulators, with dead words, murderer, rage and the desire for revenge? These are questions which rise up out of the silence sometimes, other times they rise up from heartbreaking cries and despair.
Even so, Alguien te mira isn’t a detective story, it doesn’t call upon the detective, as if this task was reserved for the future reader, who will have to decipher and see what exists but that doesn’t have a name, which is implied but not spoken. Solitude and a voyeur’s desire, the outcome of two friends who do well with a business of frog legs, the young man wants to die, to be killed so that he doesn’t have to look into the wretched face anymore. The couple of teenagers who place a bomb at a police station, the old man who controls everything and a woman peanut vendor who works for this dirty old man, who is alone and sad, needs to die, are some references that lie behind appearances that narrate a story, but tell another.
Alguien te mira isn’t a happy book, in spite of its flashes of humor. It is a painful book, a drawn out reflection about confinement and the possible ways out to free us from it. A calm meditation about the dark existence of beings who tried to explain the meaning of personal happiness and didn’t manage to.
Sex, violence, marginalization and death. Suspicion, fear, paranoia and betrayal. Somebody is always there to watch us while they push us into the abyss. Somebody sees us succumb in a labyrinth where there is more than one exit but we can’t even find one. Somebody is watching us and maybe instead of giving us a hand, they turn their backs to us. That’s what Luis Alfredo Vaillant Rebollar is dealing with. To remind us.