RENE VAZQUEZ DIAZ, in dialogue with Lesley Kreuger, tonight (Thursday, October 19), 7 pm, Lakeside Terrace; and reading with Elisabeth Harvor and W.P. Kinsella, Monday (October 23), 8 pm, Brigantine Room.
The Island Of Cundeamor, by René Vázquez Díaz (Latin American Literary Review Press), 320 pages, $17 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
When you think of the Cuban exile community, Sweden doesn't exactly spring to mind. It's there, though, that Cuban author René Vázquez Díaz took refuge after Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution, reflecting on the turmoil of his homeland from several thousand miles away.
Díaz's latest missive on life in exile is The Island Of Cundeamor, a complex, politically charged novel set on an imaginary strip of land somewhere between Miami and Cuba.
The island is a mirror of pre-revolutionary Cuba, populated by exiles who are obsessed by Castro and his ability to cling to power. It's a thinly veiled caricature of Miami's Little Havana.
Díaz's scathing depiction of the community suggests that there's a reason why he settled as far away from south Florida as possible, but he stresses that he understands the fundamental emotions of the situation.
"Miami is a living part of the Cuban national experience," Díaz offers from Paris. "Yes, Miami exiles are obsessed with Castro, but so am I. It is unbelievable that the most powerful nation in history has failed to get rid of an undesirable dictatorship only 90 miles away.
"The revolution has created sorrow, fanaticism, anger and an almost primitive sense of revenge amongst certain exile groups, which is sad. I write from the point of view of the vulnerable individual fighting for dignity. I try to do that with irony, humour and, very importantly, without hatred."
He remains an outspoken opponent of Castro and dreams of returning to a democratic Cuba, but Díaz is also strongly against the U.S. embargo and the tactics of exile groups from Miami and elsewhere.
"I am a dreamer, but I'm also a democrat," Díaz reasons. "Because of that, I don't dream about any sort of vindicatory return to Cuba. It's hard. My real home now is in Sweden. Cuba is my imaginary kingdom, but it's also the field of my everyday work, so I visit as often as I can. If I ever physically do go back, it will just