Sunday of Revolution: Wendy Guerra’s New Novel

The liberties that the novelist assumes to criticize the revolution are as important as other artistic  licenses that have been incorporated in Sunday of Revolution.

By Guillermo Rothschuh  (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – There aren’t any enemies more terrible than two writers who fight; they carve each other up with no mercy; they utilize unbelievably inappropriate phrases; they launch rash accusations and unanswerable abominations.

They not only try to generate antipathy against the other’s works, but also put into question their ethics.  They accuse the other of plagiarism and generate suspicions about their political conduct.  In the worst cases, they accuse the other of being a spy.  There’s neither truce nor clemency.  The Argentine writer Esther Vilar speaks regretfully of such behavior, incredible to her, because it’s unworthy of the human and even academic condition of certain writers.

Vilar can’t wrap her head around the fact that despite their character as humanists – those called upon to create a different human being – such writers live in eternal quarrels.  Exaggerating lies and half-truths, their resentments go on interminably. They pour the same passion and intensity they feel for writing into their antipathy for those they dislike. Vilar introduced me to this fruitful lesson.  I’m a witness to their hatreds. Their bitterness and heartaches turn them into alienated beings. I keep in mind Ms. Vilar’s recrimination, but this doesn’t imply putting aside critical positions. To be fair, these should be maintained.

How much was Cuban writer Wendy Guerra’s state of mind influenced by the harshness with which Zoé Valdés referred to her in La Mujer que Llora, Planeta 2013, [The Weeping Woman, translation by David Frye]?  The treatment she receives from her contemporary is a bitter frontal assault when she least expected it.  Valdés lights into her with fury, and without measuring her words she insinuates that Guerra could even be a stool pigeon for the Cuban G2 (State Security).  Are these the lengths to which the differences can go between those who stayed in Cuba and those forced to go into exile? Wendy Guerra’s most recent novel Domingo de Revolución [Sunday of Revolution], published by Anagrama, 2016, travels in the opposite direction from the accusations made by Zoé.

My first incursion into the world of Guerra, poet and writer, was through reading Posar Desnuda en la Habana [Posing naked in Havana].  The book, published by Alfaguara in 2010, is a moving narrative about Anais Nin, a story that was accomplished through research and tenacity.  It follows her footsteps through different parts of the world, bringing her back to Cuba.  Cuban-French, French-Cuban, I still feel her flesh tremble; her loves and delusions; the fire in her blood and a contagious sensuality.  Could she be more Cuban than French in her way of loving? Were her different releases intended as ways to forget or to feel herself loved?  It could be both at once.

In Valdés’ novel La Mujer que Llora – a major work that earned her the Azorín Prize in 2013 – the tenderness which she dispenses to Dora Maar, took root inside me.  The photographer fell victim to the eccentricities of the great Pablo Picasso.  He went so far as to drive her mad.  I felt solidarity with her pain, as she had previously been hurt by Georges Bataille.  The name of Zoe Valdes’ novel – “The Weeping Woman” – couldn’t be more appropriate, since it speaks mostly of Dora’s suffering.  Picasso mistreated her at will.  I alternated reading the book with looking at the portraits where the genius immortalized her. A pair of large round soulful eyes.  Did I see her tears, or imagine them? He painted her eyes in a thousand ways.

Did these paintings compensate for the bitterness and distress that Dora was subjected to?  I don’t believe so. The cruel price, ending in an insane asylum due to the painter’s extravagances, was too high.  Not even the Guernica painting (May-June, 1937) his emblematic painting where the poet insisted on having Maar as a model, erases from my memory the terrible treatment he subjected her to.  I never imagined that a man of his stature would be possessed by such a total lack of consideration.  His split personality left me stunned, and I still haven’t managed to reconcile this with the image of creator.

I ask myself if the darts tossed by Zoé gravely injured Wendy.  Domingo de Revolución contradicts the harsh indications that appear in La mujer que llora.  Is her book a defensive statement meant to prove Valdés wrong?  Cleo, the young protagonist of the drama, is spied upon and brutalized: could this be a biography written in code?  Her alter ego? A deliberate incarnation?  I think that in this novel Cleo could be Wendy Guerra, or vice-versa.  Try as I might I can’t disassociate Wendy from Cleo, or Cleo from Wendy.  They’re Siamese twins, united by an unbreakable umbilical cord.

Cleo is a poet, as is Wendy. Cleo is a writer very well known outside of Cuba – as is Wendy.  Cleo is a writer who’s been ignored by the Cuban establishment – Wendy as well. Cleo has been translated into various languages, Wendy as well. Cleo is deeply critical of the Cuban cultural politics, as is Wendy.  Cleo feels and pulsates under the Cuban sky and sun, Wendy as well.  Cleo, just like Wendy, could never live outside of Cuba.  For what other reason, except for politics, can we attribute the fact that Cleo would be expelled from her homeland?  Cleo and Wendy are twin souls, one lending the other their way of feeling and understanding life.

Written in the first person with a linear plot, the novel is dedicated to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, her teacher.  The narration exudes poetry, and expresses the duel way that Cleo – or rather Wendy – is perceived.  Eternally suspicious Zoe Valdes in The Weeping Woman merely changes her name (Yendi).  Valdés affirms that she told her in Paris that she owed Posar desnuda en La Habana  to her. Zoe thinks that Everybody Leaves  [Todos se van, Bruguera, 2006], another of Wendy’s novels, was stolen from her.  She accuses her of infidelity and many other vulgarities.  The darts hurled about failed to connect with me, a rushing current that failed to stain the image I had of Wendy.

The liberties that the novelist assumes to criticize the revolution are as important as the other artistic licenses that are incorporated in Domingo de Revolución.  An enchanting hybrid, chosen in its pure state for the city she loves, a book with a thousand gory points.  Following her last trip, Cleo is blocked from entering Cuba.  Will she survive a forced exile? – difficult to imagine.  Neither Cleo the character nor Wendy the person can breathe other airs.  As Wendy-Cleo states, “They can’t expel me from the island that is me.” Without the Havana luminosity, she would be a mutilated soul and doomed to die from lack of love.  Be careful not to irritate writers!