A Corner of the World – by Mylene Fernández Pintado (Translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster)

(Reviewed by JD Jung)

Exceptional

“It doesn’t seem crazy to want to live in my country. Or there must be a lot of crazy people around. Or is it that I belong to a group you left out…? The group for whom being here is more important than the superlatives of over there.”

Marian’s country is Cuba and the country “over there” is Spain. This thirty- seven year old Spanish language professor at the University of Havana is just too aware of her fellow Cuban’s fantasies surrounding Madrid. Over one hundred years ago, they were Spaniards, but still feel a strong connection. However once there, they realize that they are just foreigners without papers, enduring menial jobs. They return to Cuba, disillusioned, but forever changed.

But there’s more to this story. Marian is asked by her department head to write the preface to a book by a new novelist. This young man, Daniel, is 22 years old. She has specific criticisms of the book that Daniel resents, but even that doesn’t interfere  with the torrid love affair that develops between them. Though Daniel is street-smart, he is more of a romantic than the pragmatic Marian. He wants to travel to Madrid as a writer and though she resists, she begins to question her stable career in Cuba as well as her future.

Though the plot is solid by itself, there is so much to love about A Corner of the World. What particularly drew me in is the colorful setting of contemporary Havana. Though today’s Cuba is still a mystery to most Americans, rapid change is occurring. That said, Marian appreciates some of what the first world considers an inconvenience, like “…caller ID is a very scarce service here, a completely unnecessary luxury, so one’s anonymity is almost always guaranteed. One of the advantages of underdevelopment: mystery.”

Reader get more than a glimpse of daily life in Havana, as we learn about the culture from her friends, students and Marian, herself.

“On our island, we feel that good things are too good to keep to yourself. You always need to share them with someone. Good fortune exists to be cut into slices with words. The same is true of sadness. Or rage.”

This English language version of A Corner of the World is published by City Lights Publishers. I discovered this at their  bookstore on a recent trip to San Francisco. Finding books like this one reminds me why making this trek to my favorite bookseller is always worthwhile.

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