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American Collections blog

05 March 2015

Pais de maravillas: Cuba on the mind…

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Leonardo Abaroa, Pais De Maravillas (Havana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1992) BL
Shelfmark RF.2015.a.23

 

The recent rapprochement between the United States and Cuba has brought new attention to Cuba, and in particular the challenges for Cuban society under the pressure of the American trade embargo since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union caused massive shortages of fuel, food, medicine and income from exports. Known as the ‘periodo especial,’ or the ‘special period,’ the crisis lasted for most of the 1990s and was a profound and transformative experience. Indeed, contemporary Cuban society cannot be understood without reference to this period. Most Cubans will share stories and pictures of how they survived. Havana’s famous ‘camello’ bus was introduced during the special period, as were the urban organic gardens known as ‘organoponicos.’ Not surprisingly, together with all of the significant socio-structural changes that followed the collapse of the USSR, Cubans’ self-understanding and vision for the future underwent deep re-evaluation. This was evidenced, in among other things, the art and literature produced at the time.

Here at the BL we recently acquired a collection of Cuban poetry and short stories written during the special period, the majority of which received the prestigious Luis Rogelio Nogueras prize.

One of my favourites is the collection of short poems calle Tablero de Ifa by Frank Upierre. The title is a reference to a divination table from the Yoruba based Cuban religion of Santeria.

The author writes, “We all have a legend, a poem, or a song that forms part of our life and, without knowing how, directs us.”

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Frank Upierre, Tablero de Ifa  (Havana: Ediciones Extramuros, 1994) BL shelfmark RF.2015.a.16

The poems are full of metaphors drawn from the natural world, water, rain, dust, and stars, as well as the pilgrim and the traveller. They explore the constant tension between the permanent and the ephemeral, the spiritual and the material, history and the future. Reading them now in 2015 they leave me with both an awe inspired and eerie feeling. They reveal both the soul searching and the hardship of Cuban society, as well as its strength and it momentum.

[B.C.]

 

 

 

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