In Other Words

What They’re Reading: Cuba’s New Revolution

As the Castro regime’s grip weakens, could Cuba’s cultural establishment finally have some room to breathe again? FP asked prominent Cuban blogger and cultural critic Yoani Sánchez for her take.

FOREIGN POLICY: Has the political transition between Fidel and Raúl Castro influenced Cuba’s literary scene or political debates?

Yoani Sánchez: The greatest influence that this political succession has had was an electronic debate among Cuban intellectuals in January and February 2007. For a couple weeks, numerous writers, poets, and musicians held an exchange of e-mails with criticisms of the cultural policy of the Castros’ revolution. That would not have been possible with Fidel in power just months before.

FP: Who are the most successful authors in Cuba today? Is their writing at all political?

YS: Leonardo Padura and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez are perhaps the most successful writers, both on the foreign market as well as within the country. Both write critically about our reality, but neither does political literature per se. Their texts paint a different Cuba than official discourse would have us believe, and that is one of the reasons they are embraced by the Cuban public.

FP: How do important aspects of Cuban culture, such as food and sports, influence the literary culture?

YS: The topic of African religions has influenced Cuban literature the most in recent times. It’s hard to find a novel that does not deal, even tangentially, with what for some is folklore and for others is spiritual life.

On the subject of culinary arts, what you see is a concern with simply getting enough to eat. The economic crisis has made many typical Cuban dishes disappear, and the memory of those lost flavors is a constant in literary expression.

FP: With the restrictions on travel, do you notice a greater demand for books about other places?

YS: Reading is a form of travel. Given the limitations that we Cubans face in traveling outside our country, discovering another reality through the pages of a book is a good inducement. Hence, many of us know Paris by heart even though we have never set foot in that city. The same is true of Berlin, Rome, and even Tokyo. Thanks to literature, we manage to travel to a bunch of places without the immigration officials being able to say a word.

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