Thanks to the friends I’ve gained through this Blog, I have a copy of the novel Chiquita, winner of this year’s Alfaguara Prize. It is likely that I have one of the few copies on the island, which compels me to read it quickly and pass it on to the list of friends who are waiting for it. The more than five hundred pages written by Antonio Orlando Rodriguez are appealing not only for the story he narrates, but also because of the air of mystery that envelops the book, not to mention the fact that the official Cuban media have not yet announced that a compatriot has won such an important prize.
Amid the flood of journalists and paparazzi that fell on the award-winning author since the jury’s decision, I am certain that not one of them came from a news outlet based in Cuba. This silence doesn’t surprise me; when I was studying Cuban literature in secondary school the same capricious selection process omitted the works of Cabrera Infante, Dulce María Loynaz and Gaston Baquero. Omission is one of the most common tactics relied on by censors and, according to them, Chiquita does not exist. The officials have determined that something created in exile should not be included in “Cuban culture’s” strictly defined territory.
If you read the biography of the Lilliputian Espiridiona Cendes, you will find no thematic or stylistic reasons that the book has been ignored. Its suppression in the news, intellectual debate and critical journals reflects obedience to causes other than literary ones. The fact that its author does not belong to the cultural institutions of the island, that he might have made a few uncomfortable statements about the Cuban government, or simply that he submitted his book to an international competition without proper authorization from UNEAC [Union of Cuban Writers and Artists] and the Ministry of Culture, excludes it from being recognized in its own country.
They waste their time, these Torquemadas of culture: In today’s world, everything is known. The long line of people waiting to read my copy of Chiquita tells me that if popular opinion prevailed, Antonio Orlando Rodriguez would be on the front pages of our newspapers and on the shelves of every bookstore. Espiridiona Cenda would be the character of the moment and the censors’ mental dwarfism would not be able to keep secret from us the history of this “Cuban living doll.”