Tag Archives: Elizabeth Huergo

Happy Independence Day, Cuba!

Cuba declared its independence from Spain on May 20, 1902. The Caribbean country has had a turbulent history – making it a rich topic for its writers.

nicolasguillenNicolás Guillén (1902-1989), once the national poet of Cuba, is known for his poems about social justice that he wrote in the 1920s and 1930s. The country’s winners of the  Miguel de Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish-language writers, are playwright Alejo Carpentier, poet Dulce María Loynaz and novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante.

OscarHijuelosOscar Hijuelos, who was born in New York City to Cuban parents, became the first Latino to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with his 1989 book The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Loveabout two Cuban brothers who pursue their musical dreams in New York City. Hijuelos also wrote the novels Our House in the Last World and Mr. Ives’ Christmas and the memoir Thoughts Without Cigarettes.

CristinaGarcia Two writers who were born in Havana and immigrated to the United States have used Cuba as a setting for their novels. Cristina García, left, showed one family’s life in Dreaming in Cuban and describes the effects of dictator Fidel Castro’s regime in the just released  King of Cuba. The Castro government plays a key role in the characters’ lives of Elizabeth Huergo’s The Death of Fidel Pérez.

Margarita_Engle.2California-raised children’s writer Margarita Engle draws on Cuba’s history for her free verse books, including The Lightning Dreamer, Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, about Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda; The Surrender Tree, about a nurse who helps those while war rages in Cuba in 1896; and The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano

Carlos EireCarlos Eire was airlifted from Havana during Operation Pedro Pan, a CIA operation in which thousands of Cuban children were taken to the United States in the early 1960s – an experience he wrote about in Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. His follow-up book was Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy.

Other writers with Cuban roots include Meg Medina, Caridad Piñeiro and Alisa Valdes.

 

 

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Book review: Cristina García’s “King of Cuba”

king-of-cuba-coverCristina García’s King of Cuba (Scribner) is a wickedly awesome book.

The novel features two aging Cubans who went to college together and took two separate paths in life. El Comandante, based on Fidel Castro, became the country’s dictator, and Goyo Herrera ended up living in Florida and yearns to assassinate the man – or at least see “that son of a bitch in Havana to die first.”

After all, like many Cubans, Goyo has been through a lot.

“His brother had died in the Bay of Pigs, his father had shot himself from grief, his first love had hung herself over that tyrant. Goyo’s hatred was incontestable, lavish beyond measure.”

While Goyo also has to deal with an unruly son and health problems, El Comandante has to face political prisoners and other assassination attempts.

The book, at 235 pages, is easy to zip through because of Garcia’s great voice, which captures the bitterness of Goyo, the arrogance of El Comandante and the agony of old age. The book features generous amounts of profanity and sex and descriptions of their bathroom problems and penises. (Yes, you read that right.)

Aside from the foibles of the two main characters, the novel is a serious book – featuring anecdotes by everyday Cubans describing their struggles to make a living. King of Cuba makes a good companion to the recently released The Death of Fidel Pérez by Elizabeth Huergo, which also showed the effects of life under Castro’s regime.

Despite all he and his fellow Cubans have been through, Goyo still loves his homeland, as displayed in this beautifully written passage:

“ … the skies were embossed with the same moon and stars. The older he got, the more vividly his memories of Cuba returned – its dialects, its minerals, its underground caves, its guajiros, its hummingbirds, its fish, its chaos, its peanut vendors, its Chinese lotteries, its cacophonies, its myths, its terrors. Maybe this was what happened when a man approached death; senility and longing conspired to overtake reality. Perhaps Cuba had become nothing but an imaginary place, unrelated to any truth.”

King of Cuba is a book that will leave you thinking and laughing at the same time.

CristinaGarciaMore about Cristina García:

García, who grew up in New York City, also is the author of Dreaming in Cuban and The Lady Matador’s Hotel, as well as children’s books and poetry. She lives in Texas and New Mexico.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Book review: Elizabeth Huergo’s “The Death of Fidel Pérez”

FidelPerezIn the novel The Death of Fidel Pérez (Unbridled Books), Elizabeth Huergo weaves in the recent history of Cuba with the tormented lives of its residents – all in a story that takes place in one day and begins with the shenanigans of two misfits.

One morning, an intoxicated Fidel Pérez is bereft that his girlfriend has run off with another man. He and his brother Rafael fall down the balcony to their deaths. Their neighbors cry out “Fidel has fallen” – and townspeople believe they’re talking about Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.

From this quirky start, Huergo focuses on three characters –  Saturnina, a viejta who is still grieving the death of her son Tómas, a student who was killed while working for the Revolutionary Directorate against Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s; Pedro, an aging college professor who is haunted by the ghost of his best friend, Mario, who died in jail defending his cause; and Camilo, a student who is observing the action as the townspeople head toward La Plaza de la Revolucíon.

The commotion happens to take place on July 26, the anniversary of the Castros’ attacks on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, leading to their imprisonment, social unrest and their eventual power of Cuba.

The book shows how the Castros’ dictatorship affected the lives of Cubans – especially emotionally. The character of Pedro is particularly touching, as he deals with his guilt and the effects of living “in the belly of the monster.”

As one character tells him:

“There is no history written of those who quietly endure, Pedro. … There are monsters everywhere. They represent some necessary confrontation with ourselves. Their chaos, inflicted upon us, renders us to ourselves, reminding us of something integral that we need to remember.”

My only complaint about the book is that Huergo’s use of description – some of it is beautiful; other times, it drags the action. Still, the books moves swiftly and The Death of Fidel Pérez serves as an excellent history lesson and intriguing story.

LizHuergoMore about Elizabeth Huergo:

Huergo, who was born in Havana, Cuba, and immigrated to the United States as a child, based the character of Saturnina on a woman her mother knew. Huergo also is a poet.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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In the news: April showers books from Coelho, Anaya and Allende

April is the month notorious for rain. Fortunately, there are plenty of books to keep you entertained:

RitaMoreno:AMemoirAlready out: In Rita Moreno: A Memoir, the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winning actress looks back on her life. Rigoberto González explores his influences on his writing in Red-Inked Retablos. The late Cuban poet Severo Sarduy’s novel Firefly examines the effects of surgery on two transvestites.

FidelPerezIn Elizabeth Huergo’s The Death of Fidel Pérez, townspeople in Cuba believe dictator Fidel Castro – not their  neighbor – has died.

April 2: Paulo Coehlo, author of The Alchemist and Aleph, explores mysterious documents in his new book Manuscript Found in Accra. The Guardian profiled the Brazilian author.

OldMan'sLoveStoryApril 19: Rudolfo Anaya writes about a widower coping with grief in The Old Man’s Love Story. Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo releases Hi, This is Conchita, a series of stories ranging from the sexy to the serious.

April 23: In Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende, a teenager returns to her home in Chile to cope with her past.

kentuckyclubAwards:

• After sweeping numerous awards for Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz won the PEN/Faulkner Award for his book of short stories, Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club. His publishers at Cinco Puntos Press talked about the book to The Washington Post.

• Saenz, poets Richard Blanco and Eduardo Corral and academic Ramón H. Rivera-Servera are among the Latinos nominated for prizes at the 25th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, which goes to books about the LGBT experience. The winners will be announced in June.

The Guardian reports that Junot Díaz won the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank award for his short story “Miss Lora,” which appeared in his book, This is How You Lose Her. Díaz also appeared on The Colbert Report last week, promoting Freedom University, a college for undocumented immigrants.

• The Westchester Fiction Award, which honors literature for young adults, nominated Saenz’s Dante and Aristotle and Guadalupe Garcia McCall’s Summer of the Mariposas.

Events:

Now-June 9: The Amherst, Mass.-based The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is presenting the exhibit “Latino Folk Tales,” about children’s literature aimed at young Hispanics, according to the Amherst Gazette. The exhibit will later show in University Center, Mich.; Phoenix; and Marshall, Texas.

April 5-July 21: A three-month celebration in New York City will honor of Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca. His book about his experiences living in the city, Poet in New York, will be reissued.

April 6-7: Latino Literacy Now will play host to the 14th Annual Chicago Latino Book & Family Festival in Cicero, Ill.

April 18-21: Raquel Cepeda, author of Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina; Domingo Martinez, author of The Boy Kings of Texas; and children’s writers Pat Mora and Duncan Tonatiuh will be among the writers at the Arkansas Literary Festival in Little Rock.

April 19-21: The Border Book Festival in New Mexico explores the Camino Real de La Tierra Adentro.

April 20-21: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books features Luis Alfaro, Gustavo Arellano, Alex Espinoza, Manuel Gonzales, Reyna Grande, Luis J. Rodriguez, Héctor Tobar and Luis Alberto Urrea.

April 30: Día de los niños, El día de los libros/Children’s Day, Book Day
– created by children’s author Pat Mora – celebrates its 17th anniversary this year. Find out about activities going on in your area.

Features:

The Los Angeles Times wrote about the making of the movie version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima, which got help from an heiress of the Wal-Mart fortune.

• Tony Díaz, leader of the Librotraficantes movement that brought banned books to Arizona, is now fighting a similar attempt in his home state of Texas, where legislators have introduced a bill in which ethnic studies courses would not count toward college graduation, according to the Texas Observer. The Los Angeles Times has noted an increase in interest in ethnic studies since the ban in Arizona took place.

CBS Morning News featured Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, who presented the poem at President Obama’s inauguration earlier this year.

Publishing Perspectives profiled Dolores Redondo, a Basque writer who specializes in mysteries.

Also this month:

• April is National Poetry Month. Read about some great Latino poets.

• The Pulitzer Prizes will be announced April 15. Find out about Latino writers who have won the prestigious American award for journalism and literary arts.

• Celebrating birthdays this month: Nobel Prize winners Gabriela Mistral, José Echegaray and Vicente Aleixandre, as well as the late Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño.

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