My Days at the Havana Book Fair


By Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

Entrance to the La Cabaña Fortress, headquarters of the Havana Book Fair.

HAVANA TIMES — The first stage of the 27th edition of Havana’s Book Fair came to an end on Sunday.  Even though the name has stuck, the event has branched out to the rest of the country and will take place in different cities over the next few weeks. Anyway, I’ve already emptied the pockets of my amateur photo reporter vest and have added it to the washing pile. This is how I mark the end of my participation.

Once again, I asked my hospital for days off so I could go and enjoy the literary fair over these past days. That didn’t stop me from having to help out in some neurosurgical operations where stereotaxy is used, which is what do. I will settle scores with the neurosurgeons soon.

However, my participation at the Fair during the rest of the days, wasn’t as extensive as it has been in previous years. My normal sponsors, from the Cubaliteraria website, curbed their activity a little and I fell on the streamlined side of things. They always received one article or another from me, but nothing compared to previous editions. However, if I’m to look at this as the glass half full, it gave me more freedom to walk around more relaxed and do more of what I wanted to.

My subjective impression was that the whole Fair was more limited on the whole when compared to previous years. Maybe those who are interested in and handle concrete data of the number of participants and sales can prove me wrong, but that’s the least of it. Once again, there was everything you could reasonably ask for to have a fulfilling, literary experience as well as other cultural events. In line with the hole in my pocket, books being sold in national pesos were even slightly cheaper than they have been in previous editions. Let’s just say I spent all of my time at the Fair at the main base in the La Cabana fortress, but other smaller venues in the city also had activities on.

My selfie with Frei Betto in the background signing autographs.

Foreign booths were loaded with the expected colors and pomp of any good tradesman. Stunning images of dinosaurs, snow princesses, famous footballers, lots of copies of Best Sellers and everything else that bother the penny-pinching could be found. They also had irresistable temptations for nerds who like the Middle Ages, the Jon Snow and Daenerys Stormborn sagas. There were also the familiar publishing houses with a Leftist mark such as Ocean Press and Pathfinder, who I am a fan of. Russian and German publishers brought along their collections for those who value their cultures and languages. As usual, Esperanto and Braille also increased reading options for people who like to read in these forms. Several magazines and digital information websites also drew in an audience with their offers. 

The Chinese, ah, the Chinese, who came as the fair’s Guest of Honor. Their booth was really decorated, although I was expecting more dragons, lamps and the rest of the theatrics that you would more or less think you would find. This might be stereotypical on my part, I admit that. I clearly missed out on the best parts because my participation was so limited, I walked out after looking at the posters.

A very important event for my family was the “Iconografia de la Guerra de los Diez Anos” book presentation, which was co-written by Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Zoila Lapique Becali and Beatriz Moreno Maso. I had the pleasure of covering this event for Cubaliteraria. The book is really good, I recommend it without any bias or self-interest.

One day, we had a scare. It seems that some electrical cables couldn’t take the charge and it began to let off smoke. Firemen intervened in a flash, they evacuated the corresponding offices and they took control of the situation without there being any major consequences.

Presentation on the book about the Ten Years War.

The other presentations I covered were those by Pascual Serrano and Frei Betto. The Spanish journalist is battling the idea of the supposed impartiality, foreign to the ideals that he values in a good journalist.

I followed him so closely, that it seems that I impressed him and he wrote a special dedication in the book that I bought by him. Frei Betto is just as fresh as a lettuce [1]. Used to the pulpit, the Brazilian stands and talks and he charms his audience. I also took away his autograph in every volume.

One day, while I was writing one of the articles, I heard a speech next to me which seemed promising. The representative from the La Jiribilla website spoke reasonably about how inappropriate censorship of the press is. It seemed that he was going to respectably disconnect from the most conservative official discourse. Ending disappointedly, he agreed with some of the audience and said that author Leonardo Padura was a bad guy and that the main reasons for publishing him [in very limited editions] were to “kill the ghost” and to prove those who claim he is banned in Cuba wrong. Personally-speaking, I buy his books to enjoy his literary and humanistic values, like so many other readers do. I hope that they never invest a cent here in publishing other total pieces of trash, just to give in to any manipulation from other media platforms.

In short, they were pleasant days which I thoroughly enjoyed. I hope that these events resist the pounding of the country’s financial difficulties which will still be present in our future, for the audience’s wellbeing and for the wellbeing of Cuban culture.

[1] Colloquial phrase, used to mean cheerful, full of life, young.