Tag Archives: Europa Editions

Review: 33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara

My Review:
33-revolutionsI first became interested in the tumultuous history of the small island of Cuba when I took a Caribbean politics course in college.  It fascinated me that an island which is so geographically close to the United States could be so very different in its political system.  33 Revolutions captures life under the Castro regime from the point-of-view of an ordinary citizen who has become disillusioned from promises of change and is trying to scratch out a bare existence.

This book is more of an ode to a an island that has been betrayed by promises of revolution than a novella.  In order to capture the atmosphere is his life the author’s constant refrain throughout the writing is “like a scratched record.”  His monotonous job is like a scratched record;  the small and nondescript apartment he lives in alone is like a scratched record;  the monotonous routine of his office where he performs minimal tasks for a government agency is like a scratched record.  Guevara’s prose is lyrical and captures the frustration of citizens like this unnamed author who feel stuck and trapped:

The whole country is a scratched record (everything repeats itself: every day is a repetition of the day before, every week, month, year; and from repetition to repetitions, the sound deteriorates until all that is left is a vague, unrecognizable recollection of the original recording—the music disappears, to be replaced by an incomprehensible, gravelly murmur.)

The narrator tells us about the beginnings of the revolution in Cuba and as a result of which upheavel his well-bred mother and his ignorant peasant of a father were able to connect:

They met—or rather, bumped into each other— at one of those huge meetings where anger and fervor fused, and further encounters in various associations and assemblies ended up giving rise to an awareness that they were equal, that they had the same dreams, were part of a project that included them and made demands on them equally.

The narrator spends the rest of the novella explaining the countless ways in which this revolution failed its people and took away any spark of fervor that they once had to make their lives better. The narrator himself is brought up fully indoctrinated into the ideals of the revolution and the regime.  He was the model citizen until one day when he started reading and a whole new world, one outside of Cuban Communism, opened up to him.

One of the most interesting and enlightening descriptions in the book is that of Cuban citizens using makeshift rafts and boats to try and escape the Communist regime.  The author comments that boats full of people used to attempt to escape under the clandestine cover of night, but now people are brazen and openly board their skiffs in public during the day.  It is an incident with a large group of young people who try to hijack a government boat in the harbor that serves as the narrator’s breaking point.  He decides he can’t take the scratching of that broken record any longer and declares, “I’m not going to suppress anybody.”  And with these simple words, he declares his own minor revolution and never looks back.

About the Author:
canek-sanchez-guevaraCanek Sanchez Guevara, grandson of Che Guevara, left Cuba for Mexico in 1996. He worked for many of Mexico’s most important newspapers as a columnist and correspondent, and he wrote a regular newspaper column called “Motorcycleless Diaries.” He was a measured and informed critic of the Castro regime. He died in January 2015 at the age of forty.

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Filed under Novella, Spanish Literature

Review: The Man Who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Europa Editions.  The original book was published in French and this English translation is done by Alison Anderson.

My Review:
Layout 1This intense story is told in alternating views of two people who survived the brutality of a fictional totalitarian regime called the Theological Republic.  Although the homeland of these two characters is fictional, it is evident from clues in the text that this country is in the middle east and that both characters are refugees somewhere in Russia.  The female character, Vima, was know in the republic as their most stubborn political prisoner and given the name Bait 455.  Vima is arrested and repeatedly raped and tortured by her captors who are trying to get information about her husband’s political subterfuge.  Vima’s love and devotion for her husband runs so deep that the only words she ever speaks during these torture sessions is a defiant, “No.”  One day, without any warning, a high ranking official interrupts one of these torture sessions by snapping his fingers and Vima is rescued.

The other character in the book is a high ranking Colonel who was in the inner circle of the republic’s Supreme Commander.  The Colonel started out as a foot soldier in the Colonel’s army but because of his bravery and knowledge of arms and technology he quickly rises up in rank until he is one of the most trusted members of the Supreme Commander’s inner circle.  The Colonel’s job is to spy on the staff of the prisons where it is suspected that there are groups of traitors who are letting prisoners escape.  The Colonel’s position brings him into direct contact with Bait 455 and through an interesting twist of circumstances in the book he is the man who snapped his fingers to save Vima.

Vima and the Colonel are both refugees in a new country for five years when their paths cross.  The Colonel has applied for refugee status and the political leaders in his country of asylum keep interrogating him.  Vima is called on to be a translator for the Colonel during these interrogations.  At this point their roles as captor and captive are completely reversed and the Colonel knows that his fate is doomed.  The country of asylum really has no interest in harboring this criminal and the Colonel feels that it is only a matter of time before he is eliminated.  So he asks Vima to write a book which tells his story; the most important part of the story for him is the unconditional love he has for his wife whom he had to leave behind in the republic.

Vima and the Colonel both have emotional personalities that allow them to love deeply and unequivocally.  Vima’s tormentors, no matter how much they tried to break her body and her spirit, would not betray her beloved.  The Colonel gives up his position in the republic and risks his life to escape because his wife demands that he do so.  But in the end Vima and the Colonel are both disappointed because their intense love is not matched by their respective partners.

There is one final interesting literary allusion in the text that, as a classicist, I would be remiss not to mention.  The Colonel enjoys reading literary classics with his lawyer, an eccentric man named Yuri.  Yuri introduces him to The Iliad and The Odyssey and the Colonel becomes fascinated with the Greek hero Achilles.  Achilles, not unlike the Colonel, is a controversial hero who wreaks havoc and destruction despite his heroic status.  Achilles is eventually brought down because of his one week spot, his heel, and the Colonel, too, has a vulnerability which comes in the form of his love for his wife.

This is one of those books that will stay with me and that I will think about for a long time to come.  I made the mistake of reading this before bed and it kept me up thinking for quite a while.  The true hero in the book is Vima who, despite suffering the worst evil that humanity has to offer, is resilient and never stops fighting back.  Vima fights her tormentors with a simple “no,” she fights abandonment from her beloved, and she fights when her past comes crashing back into her life and threatens her sanity.  I think that this will make my list of favorite books of the year.

About the Author:
F HachtroudiFariba Hachtroudi was born in 1951 in Tehran. She comes from a family of scholars and professors. Her paternal grand-father was a religious leader who supported the constitutionalists in 1906, against other religious leaders who advocated for governance by Sharia law and the absolute rule of God as a monarchic authority.

Fariba’s father Mohsen Hachtroudi was a learned scholar, often called the “Ommar Khayyam” of contemporary Iran. As a well known French-educated mathematician, philosopher and poet, Mr Hachtroudi was unquestionably considered to be a moral authority for generations of Iranians. Hachtroudi fought his entire life for the promotion of democracy, social justice (most notably women rights) and secularism. Fariba’s mother, Robab Hachtroudi was a professor of humanities and Persian literature.

Fariba Hachtroudi received her doctorate (PHD) in art and archeology in Paris in 1978.

She lived in Sri Lanka from 1981 to 1983, where for two years she taught at the University of Colombo while performing research on the Teravada Boudhism.

When Fariba returned to France in 1983, she started, as a journalist, to denounce Khomeynism.

In 1985 / 1986, to understand the daily life of her compatriots, Fariba travelled clandestinely to Iran by way of the desert of Baluchistan. L’exilée, Hachtroudi’s first book describes her haunting journey.

10 years later, in 1995, Fariba who was much more pessimistic than others, already predicting change and revival “slowly and from within Iran”, decided again to approach the issue by creating a humanitarian association free of political affiliations. MoHa, the association for the foundation of Mohsen Hachtroudi, focuses it work on education and secularism – conditions essential for the respects of women’s rights and the promotion of democracy. MoHa helped Iranians refugees wherever they were. After her last trip to Iran (2006) Fariba Hachtroudi hopes to be able to register her Foundation in Iran in order to help the youth inside the country as it was the goal of her father.

For more information visit her website: http://www.faribahachtroudi.fr/bio/uk.html



Filed under France, Literary Fiction, Literature in Translation, Uncategorized