Trumpets in the Mountains

COVER Trumpets mountainsTrumpets in the Mountains: Theater and the Politics of National Culture in Cuba
Laurie A Frederik
2012, Duke University Press
336 pages, plates

ASTUTE as ever, Fidel Castro was one of the first to realise that the Special Period of belt-tightening ushered in to respond to the profound economic crisis caused in Cuba when its Soviet lifeline was severed raised much broader questions about the country’s future. If the ideological detail of Marxism-Leninism was now up for negotiation as adaptations were made to the socialist model to enable the country to survive, let alone prosper, then what would this mean for a collective identity forged since 1959 at a crossroads where socialism met nationalism? The diehard Castro’s response was to retreat behind the barricades in order to continue the battle against imperialism – but this time in its cultural guise. The Cuban leader called for a new generation of cultural specialists to combat neoliberal globalization, and a new dialogue began to unfold in the country about national identity. Laurie Frederik’s fascinating and highly original book explores what happened next by looking at one aspect of the cultural dialogue that subsequently took place as intellectuals and artists grappled with the redefinition of cubanía, Cuban-ness. In particular, the author examines one of the most important reservoirs of a pure, unadulterated conception of national character, the peasantry, and how this informed debates long founded on the unyielding, reinforced concrete of Che Guevara’s idealized “New Man”. She writes: “No longer able to rely on traditional keywords such as sacrifice and struggle or to rouse support through references to Marx or Lenin, state propaganda, assisted by cooperative artists, turned to cultural heritage and values, scolding the younger generation for its shallow materialism and greed and rewarding those who continued to represent the characteristics of Cuba’s noble (and still socialist) campesino.” [p. 15] This is a valuable, well informed and sympathetic piece of scholarship that provides solid, empirical evidence of the process by which national identity is constructed in discourse. If the process by which narratives gain direction is steered by wider changes in the economic forces that bear down upon cultural invention, the irony of this great book is that at one level it reflects a materialist explanation for the superstructure that conforms collective identities. Fidel would be satisfied – and so will you if you take the time to read this book carefully. – EC

Latin American Review of Books – Latamrob

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