When Carlos Manuel Álvarez (Cuba, 32 years old) went for the first time to live outside his country, to Mexico, he realized that not only the territory was changing, he was also taking a leap in time. The same feeling runs through the characters in his second novel, Fake war (published by Sexto Piso and available in bookstores in Spain from this Saturday), a polyphonic portrait of contemporary Cuban exile where all, as it is said in the text, seem “drawn on a paper that had been set on fire by a corner” .
His characters include a barber from a lumpen neighborhood, a child psychologist, two bounty hunters or a couple of computer programmers with a BMW and a beach villa. All outlined at the stroke of ellipsis to enhance a kind of chronic despondency or metaphysical dislocation.
Looking back, he also identifies a vital relationship with his first novel, The fallen (2018), the claustrophobic story of a Cuban family, still written during their time on the island.
Since before his debut in the novel, Álvarez has not stopped reaping accolades and awards as one of the young talents in the Spanish language: in 2017 he was included in the Bogotá39 list and this same year he has been selected by the list of the British magazine Grant. Founder of an independent media in Cuba, The sneeze, is also a regular contributor to El PAÍS, The New York Times o The Washington Post.
Despite living outside his country, he has never been disconnected from the Cuban reality. In November of last year he returned to Havana to join a network of activists that went on a hunger strike to demand the release of a musician, harshly answered by Castroism. He also returned to finish off the novel and amputate pieces in search of the suggestive holes through which the characters are lost. “For that level of thoroughness and concentration, I needed a parenthesis. And Cuba is a place where time has a different dimension, another thickness ”, says the author by video call from Miami, one of the scenes of the network of stories, along with Mexico City, Paris, New York and Berlin.
On an ontological level, leaving Cuba is not the same as leaving Spain or Mexico
Question. Do you agree with the claims of your characters?
Answer. The idea of exile that interests me comes from a paragraph of Journey to the end of the nightby Céline. The exile is the one who leaves one place and time and has not yet fallen into the other. Like a kind of limbo in which you are completely untied. Céline sees it as a lucid moment in which the customs of one place let you go and those of the other have not yet caught hold of you. A defining moment, because it is where the subject will be less anesthetized. It was in this gap that I was interested in thinking about the novel.
P. But his characters don’t fit into either world.
R. That gap gives me the possibility of establishing a very large historical, geographical and political model leap. Because Cuba, the world of the cage, is 40 years behind. On an ontological level, leaving Cuba is not the same as leaving Spain or Mexico. We are also moving in time.
P. Is that a difference with the Cuban exile phenomenon of decades ago?
R. Today is not the same as in the sixties or seventies. You come out of real socialism and you no longer fall into the structured world of the Cold War, but into the neoliberal world. The exile that this novel tells seems to me that it is not even typified yet. Those of us who left are no longer anchored to historical exile, to their estates, in their way of understanding what they left behind. There are many people of my generation who are no longer paying these tolls or these sentimental debts to concepts such as homeland, country or home.
P. There is no nostalgia.
R. It may be a melancholic novel, with characters traversed by an idea of sadness, but not nostalgia. Nostalgia is a crippling and quite reactionary feeling. You do not establish a membership with the place you come from. My generation has been working from the age of 15 to leave Cuba. That abrupt exile caused by a violent force that forces you to leave no longer exists. We are already born with the condition of exiles, that we have to leave. It is completely natural.
P. The novel even speaks of the condition of exile of the exile itself. And of an identification between the fragmentation and the abandonment of the great stories of postmodern literature with the contemporary notion of Cuban exile.
R. I think that, to achieve a true recognition of who we are, what our historical time is and what can be done in it, we must shed those clauses that are from other generations. Exile works as a kind of state. In a country where exile has been going on for so many decades, somehow it becomes naturalized. More than an exception, it has become a custom or a place of arrival. But that place of arrival is going to impose certain rules, certain political criteria, certain ways of explaining why you left. So you also have to go into exile from that other country to understand yourself genuinely.