For a writer, fiction is a wonderful way to find your way into history or culture. For a reader, it’s a wonderful way to learn about history, without really trying, and offers the human side to things — something that’s not always there in the history books.
I once quipped that everything I know about the big wide world comes from fiction. While that may not be entirely true, it’s a fact that novels have left me with impressions about countries I have never seen and eras I have never lived, a textural take I don’t think I’d get any other way beyond actually being there.
Rossland author Rosa Jordan used fiction to give a textural take on Cuba, its complicated leader Fidel Castro, and Castro’s “significant other” Celia Sanchez.
Jordan, a Cubaphile who has previously written nonfiction books about the country, was fascinated by Sanchez, but challenged by the lack of historical information about this enigmatic woman. So she explored the subject through the imagination of a present-day protagonist, a pediatrician who shares Jordan’s fascination. The result is her 2012 novel The Woman She Was.
Jordan reads from her new novel next Thursday, October 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Library.
I haven’t been to Cuba, although it’s near the top of my rather long list. I loved Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene and The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto Guevara, and I could watch Buena Vista Social Club (legendary Cuban musicians, along with American Ry Cooder) on DVD a hundred times and never tire of it.
Some fiction titles in our collection that offer that textural take on Cuba include Thine is the Kingdom by Abilio Estevez, Loving Ché by Ana Menendez, and several titles by Oscar Hijuelos including Emperor of the Splendid Season and The Fourteen Sisters of Emilio Montez O’Brien, all hard copies you can check out. Among the e-books available for download is Roland Merulio’s Fidel’s Last Days, perhaps a good companion book to Jordan’s.
Non-Cuban writers write Cubaphilic novels, too: Ernest Hemingway wrote the classic tale of a Cuban fisherman and a marlin in The Old Man and the Sea while living in Cuba. Although it initially garnered negative reviews, it won the Nobel Prize for Literature and has been a part of part of high school curricula for decades.
Contemporary authors setting novels in Cuba include Martin Cruz Smith (Havana Bay) and David Hagberg (Castro’s Daughter).
Of course, we have lots of great nonfiction titles about Cuba, from Isadora Tatlin’s biography The Cuba Diaries: an American Housewife in Havana to Fidel Castro’s own biography, appropriately titled My Life. In DVD we have Fidel Castro: el Comandante, a great visual history in A&E biography series.