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The Vintage Book of Contemporary Cuban Literature
Edited by Cristina García

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Category: Fiction - Anthologies (multiple authors); Fiction - Literary; Literary Criticism - European - Spanish & Portuguese
Imprint: Vintage
Format: Trade Paperback
Pub Date: April 2003
Price: $14.00
Can. Price: $21.00
ISBN: 978-0-385-72137-0 (0-385-72137-4)
Pages: 400

For Cubans, there is nothing more fundamental than music, says Cristina García. No matter what their political persuasion, whether they live in Havana or New York, Miami or Mexico city, Cubans share a sense of their identity through a music that is known throughout the world. Cuban literature is as distinctive, but until now there has been no single introduction to its great diversity and accomplishment.

García uses the word “clave” as an organizing theme for this anthology. For Cubans it means a key to a mystery and the five-part rhythm that underlies all Cuban music, as well as the sticks that are used to beat out the rhythm. In five sections each named for a different Cuban dance—the danzon, the rumba, the son, the mambo and the salsa—short stories, essays, poems and selections from novels each convey something quintessentially Cuban. Fernando Ortiz wittily elaborates on the differences between the two main crops of Cuba “Tobacco is born, sugar is made.” Alejo Carpentier’s essay on “the real marvelous” was the first articulation of what has come to be known as magical realism. There follows his story “Journey Back to the Source” which intriguingly illustrates the concept. “A view from the Mangrove” by Antonio Benitez-Rojo is a hallucinatory account of one man’s struggle during the War of Independence.

Guillermo Cabrera Infante appears in the fiery rumba section with a selection from his novel Three Trapped Tigers as well as the arresting essay “Lorca the Rainmaker visits Havana.” Reinaldo Arenas reflects the audacity of a mambo in a selection from his autobiography Before Night Falls which details his escape from prison. And in the salsa section Ana Menendez’s story “In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd” comically portrays residents of Miami who long to return to their native island.

In addition to writers with established reputations, the collection presents those who are little known to English-speaking readers such as Virgilo Pinera and even those little known to Cubans, such as Lino Novas Calve. Altogether, there are 29 pieces from 25 authors. Encompassing elegance and sensual energy, the innovative and the absurd, the lyrical and the outrageous, ¡Cubanísimo! is an invigorating jam session, a celebration of Cuba that will reverberate for its readers long after it is read.

“An unparalleled selection of the best that Cuban writing, with its multiple beats, rhythms and identities, has to offer. This is the anthology that I will recommend to my students, colleagues, and friends. It has sabor!” —William Luis, Professor of Spanish, Vanderbilt University

¡Cubanísimo! brings the two islands together: the island within and the island without. Some of my all-time favorite authors parade through these pages, and then some... The cumulative literary quality is astounding. From José Martí to Ana Menéndez, what a century it has been for this buoyant nation, beleaguered and idealistic, a continent unto itself.” —Ilan Stavans, author of The Hispanic Condition and On Borrowed Words and Professor of Latin American and Latino Cultyre at Amherst College

“Gracias a la Virgencita del Cobre and Cristina García, there is no embargo on the transport of Cuban literature and song from the island to our south or from Spanish into English. In this exciting anthology are gathered the preeminent and classic figures of Cuban literature as well as a younger generation of Cuban and Cuban-American writers who are negotiating the hyphen between their American and Cuban heritages, their English and Spanish languages. For years now, Cuban music has provided us with the rich sounds of the island. Here are the voices of its literary singers, full of rhythm and range, as likely to incite finger-snapping and foot-tapping and surges of insight as the wonderful Cuban danzón, rumba, son, mambo, salsa. Based in the island or in the Cuba they cannot lose in their hearts and heads, this conjunto is bound to complicate and enrich our understanding of Cuban culture.” —Julia Alvarez, author of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
Cubanisimo! sings. It flaunts some of Cuba’s most enduring qualities–laughter and nostaliga, indulgence and invention, metaphor and hyperbole.” —Tom Miller, author of Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through Castro’s Cuba

“Cristina García's literary project has always been to make bridges between Cuba, the community of the Cuban Diaspora and the world. ¡Cubanísimo!, her anthology of contemporary Cuban literature, continues that labor of love. This is the book all Cubans will give to their curious but Spanish-impaired friends. Flavorful and varied as Cuba itself, ¡Cubanísimo! offers a grand arm-chair tour of Cuba with Cristina García as guide.” —Gustavo Pellon, Professor of Spanish, University of Virginia


José Martí: "Love in the City" from War Diaries
Fernando Ortiz: "Tobacco and Sugar" from Cuban Counterpoint
Antonio Benítez-Rojo: A View from the Mangrove
Lydia Cabrera: The Hill of Mambiala
Dulce María Loynaz: "Eternity" and "Certainty"

Alejo Carpentier: Prologue from The Kingdom of This World and Journey Back to the Source
Miguel Barnet: "Life in the Woods" from Biography of a Runaway Slave
Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Lorca the Rainmaker Visits Havana and "I Heard Her Sing" from Three Trapped Tigers
Nancy Morejón: "Love, Attributed City"
Calvert Casey: The Walk

José Lezama Lima: Chapter VIII from Paradisio
Herbert Padilla: "Self-portrait of the other" and "A prayer for the end of the century"
Lourdes Casal: The Founders: Alfonso
Lino Novás Calvo: As I Am . . . As I Was
Nicolás Guillén: Josephine Baker in Cuba

Virgilio Piñera: The Face
Gustavo Pérez-Firmat: Six Mambos from Life on the Hyphen: and The Cuban American Way
Severo Sarduy: from From Cuba with a Song
Reinaldo Arenas: from Before Night Falls
Zoë Valdés: The Ivory Trader and the Red Melons

Ernesto Mestre: "The Bakery Administrator's Daughter" from The Lazarus Rumba
María Elena Cruz Varela: "Love Song for Difficult Times" and "The Exterminating Angel"
José Manuel Prieto: from Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire
Ana Menéndez: In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
Rafel Campo: "What the Body Told"


Cristina García was born in Havana and grew up in New York City. Her first novel, Dreaming in Cuban, was nominated for a National Book Award and has been widely translated. Ms. García has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Hodder Fellow at Princeton University, and the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter.