cover image Havana Year Zero

Havana Year Zero

Karla Suárez, trans. from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney. Charco, $15.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-913867-00-3

Cuban writer Suárez’s inventive if overwrought English-language debut follows a group of literary and math types who latch onto a Quixotic sense of purpose during a period of national despair. Cuba in 1993 is at its nadir—the shops are empty and the island is economically and politically isolated after the fall of the Soviet Union, and wary of “anything that came from outside,” according to the narrator, Julia, an apathetic 30-year-old math teacher. Julia and her former professor and lover Euclid discuss a historic document from Antonio Meucci that shows he invented the telephone in Cuba decades before Alexander Graham Bell. After getting hit by a cyclist, a man named Ángel comes to Julia’s aid and they start a romance. Through him she meets Leonardo, an author writing a novel about Meucci; and at Leonardo’s salon, she meets an Italian journalist writing about Cuban literature. All of these people know about the mysterious Meucci document, though only Ángel and Euclid have seen it, since both had ties to the document’s onetime owner, Ángel’s ex-wife and Euclid’s daughter. The relationships among the five become increasingly messy, as infidelities and speculation abound. While the histrionics are sometimes wearing (“There have been plenty of times when Havana was the wrong place for many things”), the portrayal of the characters’ obsession has plenty of heart. Suárez’s kaleidoscopic take on recent Cuban history is worth a look. (Nov.)