Sunday, January 19, 2014

Macondo Workshop (your invitation to apply!) and Book Reviews: Cristina Garcia's _King of Cuba_ and Julie Trimingham's _Mockingbird_

by Amelia M.L. Montes (

First—a special announcement:  You are cordially invited to apply to Macondo, a community of writers who come together for a week in the summer to workshop their writing. “The Macondo Workshop started in 1995 at the kitchen table of the poet and writer, Sandra Cisneros in San Antonio, Texas.  These yearly workshops are aimed to bring together a community of poets, novelists, journalists, performance artists, and creative writers of all genres whose work is socially engaged.” 
Sandra Cisneros at Macondo
This year’s Macondo Workshop will be held the week of July 21st in San Antonio, Texas.  To read about the Macondo Workshop, the program description, and application instructions, CLICK HERE. Applications are now being accepted!  

 Theft and reclaiming what has been lost is a running theme in Cristina Garcia’s, King of Cuba and Julie Trimingham’s, Mockingbird.  In King of Cuba, we have a fictional Fidel Castro’s narrative coupled with the narrative of Goyo Herrera, who was forced to leave Cuba with his family and now lives in Florida. Castro is nostalgic as he is obsessive, and covetous in his relationship with power. Goyo Herrera is obsessed with the idea of heroism—wanting to kill Castro for a multitude of reasons: family deaths, the never-ending exile and fading possibility of ever returning to Cuba and reclaiming that life.  As well, he remembers the lover that Castro had taken from him. 

“His fixation with ending the tyrant’s life had begun to consume Goyo day and night . . . His heroism would’ve been greater had he undertaken the mission as a young man, but even grizzled and arthritic as he was, he might yet achieve mythic status.  HERE LIES A CUBAN HERO.  Goyo imagined these words chiseled on his headstone, the wreaths and tributes, the eulogies and Martí-inspired poetry read in his honor.”

In the meantime, “El Comandante,” or “dictator” or “El Lider” (and various other names are given) is also now elderly and taking great pains to preserve his image with an army of people to help him look good in front of others, to assist him with his vanity in its unwieldy heft.

Cristina García
“’Nobody will steal this revolution away from us.’ Damn it, how he loved to hear his voice fill a room; nothing was more powerful to him.  Nothing sounded more like Cuba than his voice.  It was bigger than him somehow.  Oceanic. Invincible.  He was two people.  Him and his voice.”
Goyo and El Comandante are led by their obsessions and García is able to draw readers into multi-dimensional perspectives of character that prevent Goyo and El Lider from becoming cartoonish.  They are sympathetic characters who are both afflicted with an overabundance of hubris: a fascinating coupling. 

In Mockingbird by Julie Trimingham, a white woman named Mia follows her academic lover to Cuba since she hasn’t been able to find acting jobs back in the states.  What we have here is a lush, beautifully descriptive photomontage, or filmic narrative of Cuban scenery:  the malecón, their trip to Trinidad, their living quarters in Miramar: “a manicured neighborhood of twentieth-century villas that are now embassies and corporate headquarters.  Ours was a low-slung concrete building that clung, mollusk-like, to the edge of the harbor.  The shore is craggy, and they’ve built a wall along it, straight up from the rocks, a littoral girding.  We had a corner room up top, with windows that gave onto the water.”  Mia is unhappy.  She has been waiting for a commitment from Alex, a conventional proposal, which, at this point, seems impossible. Instead, what appears is a baby left in a car and Mia’s theft of a Cuban child.  Or is it theft?

Julie Trimingham
This is not as much about Cuba as it is about the outsider/the white privileged individual entering a Latin American country and "taking over" in an effort to achieve a sense of self.  The lush prose accentuates all that is lacking in Mia. We follow her every foible which allows the reader to understand her motivations (as we do with Goyo and Fidel in King of Cuba).  Trimingham has worked for a number of years as a filmmaker, and in the realm of fiction, her work in film has probably helped her develop such razor sharp, beautiful descriptive scenes.  It’s interesting to read King of Cuba and Mockingbird back-to-back.  García’s novel is internally Cuban (with bombastic characters) while Trimingham's is external, giving us much more of the Havana/Trinidad scenery as well as the ineptitude of the white Anglo foreigner (Mia) on an island she seems destined never to understand. 

Wishing everyone a most wonderful week!  

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