13 August 2022 ~ 1 Comentario

Manuel C. Díaz, storyteller

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Manuel C. Díaz is an excellent Cuban storyteller. He has just demonstrated it with the publication of a book, Cuentos cubanos: Isla y exilio (Cuban Tales: Island and Exile, although almost all the tales take place in Cuba), through Amazon Books, which he has accessed through Ernesto Valdés, Design and Layout of enzoftdesigns.com. We’ll get to it soon.

I don’t know if the author is right to divide the stories into “island” and “exile,” although Zenaida, the main character in “A Paradise Under the Stars,” one of the best stories in a great anthology, a beautiful black Cuban woman, desperate for leaving the “island,” dies at sea trying to reach the “exile.” And perhaps that explains the writer’s lack of complicity with the Revolution. There is something too murky and too arbitrary about the “revolutionaries” to give them a positive view.

Manuel himself was imprisoned for several years for “illegal departure from the country.” It was a euphemism. At the time he was convicted, in 1966, there was no way to legally emigrate from Cuba without being subjected to humiliating “acts of repudiation” or being fired from work “as a traitor.” Either you jumped into the water on anything that floated, with the risk of being eaten by sharks, of being seized by Cuban patrol boats, usually after being betrayed by someone, or you were part of the victorious circle of those who managed to reach the US.

In 1979, Manuel managed to emigrate peacefully among a flood of thousands of opponents of all kinds to the United States. Those were the times of Jimmy Carter and the first political thaw with Cuba. Manuel C. Díaz was 37 years old, but he did not waste the years spent in Cuba. He was a sponge. He observed his surroundings very well and the proof is the book we are commenting on—eleven stories taken from Cuban anecdotes, eleven literary jewels, based on fiction, that is, with invented characters and scenes, but seen and heard, that is, lived intensely.

Upon reaching exile he continued fighting. Then he had to face a state that flirted with Stalinism. A nation that prowled editorials and newspapers that published reviews or criticism. The “unfortunate” thing was that Manuel C. Díaz was in exile. Writing fiction, poetry or theater is for leftists and a Cuban exile, by definition, was a right-wing individual. That didn’t begin to change until the exile of Reinaldo Arenas and Heberto Padilla.

Cuba before 1959 didn’t take care of writers or people linked to culture. Society didn’t care if Lezama Lima or Paquito D’Rivera died of hunger. But since that year, the Revolution identified a space for the survival of the class related to cultural activities—cheerleaders of the political class. Heberto Padilla described them exactly in Fuera del Juego (Out of the Game): “They explained to him later / that all this donation would be useless without giving the tongue / because in difficult times nothing is so useful to stop hate or lies. /And finally they begged him to please start walking, because in difficult times this is, without a doubt, the decisive test/.”

The “Revolution” demanded their tongue. What did it want? Total submission. An embrace without conditions. There was a time, not long ago, that there was not even the possibility of self-publishing. Most authors wrote for the desk drawer. It didn’t always depend on quality. Many were magnificent collections of poems, or story books, or novels that were never published. The first edition of Azul (Blue) by Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío was financed by its author. Cuban José Martí’s Ismaelillo suffered the same (bad) luck.

Walt Whitman had to pay to see Leaves of Grass in print. The printers demanded that he pay in advance for the first six editions, which grew exponentially, until the seventh, that was driven by scandal—he was accused of “immorality.” That saved him. The ninth, published shortly before his death, is the definitive one. In 1855 it was a minor collection of poems with a dozen compositions. In 1892 it had more than 400, including “El canto a mí mismo,” (A Song to Myself) with hundreds of free verses (years later translated by León Felipe). It’s worth reading.

Books are changing. More and more authors are choosing self-publishing, even when being able to choose the conventional publishing. Manuel uses “enzoftdesigns.com.” He could have chosen the engineer Modesto (Kiko) Arocha from “Alexander Library,” as more than 100 authors did before him. Or Marlene Moleón from “Eriginal Books,” the person in charge of publishing El reino de la infancia (Memorias de mi vida en Cuba) (The Kingdom of Childhood, Memories of my life in Cuba), the first memoirs of Uva de Aragón, a splendid book, full of photographs, which is a tribute to the country where the author was born.

That is why it is unfair to judge the books, in the first instance, by where they were printed. If there is something that deserves attention, it is a book that can and should be judged by its content. For example: Cuentos cubanos by Manuel C. Díaz. Believe me, it’s an excellent book.

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