In “Revolution Sunday,” award-winning and internationally recognized author Wendy Guerra tells the story of a Havana-born poet, Cleo, who is unwanted in her native country. In a semi-autobiographical fusion of prose and poetry, Guerra tells the poet’s story of paranoia, loneliness, broken trust and life in a country that rejected her.
While Guerra is primarily a poet, “Revolution Sunday” is not the first novel she has published. After attending the University of Havana and studying with Gabriel Garcia Marquez, she published her first book, “Todos se van.” The poor representation of 1980s Cuba was a catalyst for much of the political and professional exile she faces in Cuba today. She won the Bruguera Novel Prize in 2006 for “Todos se van.” Upon her return to Havana, she was placed under intense political surveillance and removed from her position as a TV host. Although her work is now banned in Cuba, it has been translated into over a dozen languages. Achy Obejas, author of “The Tower of the Antilles,” translated “Revolution Sunday” for Melville House.
In her latest work, Guerra illustrates the blurry line between paranoia and reality when living under constant surveillance. Her voice is sharp and concise as she describes the conditions of creating art under a politically restrictive government. Every couple of days, Cleo wakes up to officers raiding her home and digging through her belongings. This invasion of privacy leads to a state of intense paranoia. While Cleo is positive that her home is fraught with microphones and cameras documenting her every move, readers are left unsure how much is exaggeration and how much is truthful.
Cleo’s sense of paranoia heightens when an internationally recognized filmmaker arrives at her front door with files of information and an overflow of questions about Cleo’s alleged father who died two years prior. She begins to question the most fundamental facts to her personhood — she’s unsure of who her parents are, when and how they died and where she was born. She falls into a lustful and theatrical infatuation with the filmmaker, who has minimal credence and prestige in a country that is shielded from international mainstream media.
She speaks of Havana with thoughtful care that displays her resistance to the ostracization; no matter how lonely and isolated she feels, she refuses to be kicked out of her own home. However, her loving tone is hardly optimistic. Cleo writes of the hazy lack of autonomy that accompanies an invasive totalitarian government. The shifting norm is to essentially live like a child; she is always being monitored and she is not responsible for making her own decisions. She actively resists the naivety that is being forced onto her.
Guerra’s narrative is particularly important in this climate, where the most progressive art is being willfully silenced and support of the embargo in Cuba is rising. For a majority of us, “Revolution Sunday” offers an essential perspective: how courage and resistance isolate and ostracize — where the only reward for passion is disdain.