In Cuban American author Mestre-Reed’s Sacrificio (Soho, Sept.), a young man falls into a group of queer counterrevolutionaries in late-1990s Havana.
Nicolás and Renato are part of a group of HIV-positive people, some of whom choose to infect themselves. This was a real occurrence in Cuba, right?
There was a huge article in the early ’90s written in the New York Times Magazine about it. A lot of people who said they had injected themselves had actually acquired it through sexual interaction and connections with other people, but it was definitely happening at a point where it was kind of a social protest, especially during the Special Period when the lack of Soviet subsidies completely collapsed the economy.
What drew you to that small movement and to that specific time period?
I was drawn to the movement to some degree because I wanted to write about queer desire, and I wanted to write this last novel about Cuba—now I’m going to move onto my new country. But it was about the idea of queer desire and how it’s connected to this ideal of liberty that’s never quite achieved. I played around with that for a long time in the creation of the novel. In some ways it’s a novel about broken ideals, both in a social sense, with revolution, but also in the personal sense, with the characters.
The novel is filled with characters who are very much on the fringe of both mainstream and underground society, politically and in terms of their sexuality—Renato in particular, who was a golden boy in the communist youth movement in school, until he turns around and rejects it. What drew you to those people who are living on the edge of the mainstream?
There was a Cuban artist who had an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and a lot of the work was about the kinds of shacks that people build on roofs. And I went, “Wow!” I started doing research on that. That is a fascinating way to live just on the edge of society. And so it began from that—what kind of people would live in this kind of society, and how would those who are working in the system be drawn to something like that?
So what’s next after Cuba?
Well, I’m not done with Cubans, but I’m done with Cuba. Cubans are notoriously conservative because they’re very anti-communist, so I’m working on this novel now where there’s this very successful Cuban woman who becomes involved in the insurrection in the Capitol. It’s almost about this demented search for liberty that always goes wrong in some way with Cubans—and that’s been the history of the country.