The Initials of the Earth


The Initials of the Earth
Jesús Díaz, translated by Kathleen Ross
2007, Duke University Press
430 pages

WHAT better critic of Fidel’s revolution than a zealot who has begun to question his faith. It is for that reason that many reviewers in the US liked The Initials of the Earth, quite rare for a book published by a university press but, perhaps in this case, fairly predictable. Jesús Díaz’s ambitious yet ultimately misunderstood novel was embraced by the literati less for its literary qualities and more for offering a few more tired and rusty rounds to fire across the straits. Yet that had never been the intention of the author, for whom the writing and subsequent rewriting, censure and subsequent approval, was something of a personal odyssey – and ordeal – that reflected the growing doubts a committed revolutionary was having about his own life in service to the cause. Regarded as one of the most important novels published in Cuba in the last 30 years, The Initials of the Earth is perhaps most significant for exploring a process: the protagonist Carlos Pérez Cifredo is reflecting upon his own labours in preparation for a Communist Party ruling on whether he was or was not an exemplary worker. In this process, the author explores the hopes and dreams of the generation that lived through the revolution and the subsequent contradictions of revolutionary Cuba. Although when Díaz had finally left Cuba and settled in Madrid – where he founded the magazine Encuentro, an important forum for exile literature – the gloves came off and he began to harangue Castro tirelessly, The Initials of the Earth speaks louder about a theme he touched upon in other works by this author – the impossibility of realising lofty dreams of freedom and justice before fatigue sets in – than it does about the flaws of the system under Castro. – GO’T

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