Sunday, October 14, 2007

Flying through the symbols with the greatest of ease

NOW READING: Cuba and the Night by Pico Iyer

Cuba is like a cult. And not because they are both four-letter words that start with "cu." People who travel to Cuba in this day and age, and by that I mean the 80s-90s-00s, become part of this mysterious entity they themselves cannot understand but which they want to push on all their nearest and dearest anyway. In fact, it may be less like a cult and more like, say, Prozac. Only Cuba is real.

Of course one of the things I worry about on the imminent, soon-I-swear, no-really-any-day-now publication of my Cuba book is that it will really be my traveling-to-Cuba story that no one cares about. Like when you have to look at someone's vacation photos and you don't care. And as I've written it sometimes it 's been a novel and sometimes it's been non-fiction, and my writing group and others (rightly so) tell me to stop categorizing it and just finish writing the damn thing. Still I feel I need to understand what it is I'm trying to say, or else it will end up like Pico Iyer's Cuba and the Night.

For the most part I enjoy reading this "novel" of Iyer's, which is really a travel narrative, thinly veiled. But I can be honest with myself and say the audience for the first part of this book may be pretty small--consisting entirely of people who've had a clandestine moment in Cuba. I so want the audience for my book to be bigger.

On the other hand, while Iyer's work was tolerable and only Cuba-interesting for the first 150 pages or so, now in the latter half it's actually starting to get good. To the point where even plebes such as yourself who haven't been there might enjoy it. (ha, OK? don't take me so seriously) You really are starting to wonder what will become of our narrator and his relationship with Lourdes.

But man does he capture things about visiting that island that are hard to explain. Such as how you always find yourself taking up the position you argued against the day before, how you are keenly aware of the disastrous aspects of life there until someone points them out, at which point you find yourself defending the Revolucion.

My favorite bit came when Hugo asked him wasn't he going to take any pictures where they were staying because they would be perfect.

"'Too perfect,' I said, and it was true: that was the problem with the place sometimes. The symbols came too easily. Everything was just too ready-made...a girl on a balcony at dusk, looking to it, another sign, in neon, with some of the letters blinking on and off: XX Siglo - Twentieth Century. If I sent that to my editors, they'd think it was a setup. The ironies here were too much to believe..." --p. 174