Abilio Estévez was born in Havana, Cuba, in 1954 but has been resident in Barcelona for the past ten years. Estévez’s writing covers a wide variety of genres – the novel, short stories, poetry, theatre and dance – and he has been awarded important prizes within all these areas. Of his four novels, two have already been translated into English: Thine is the Kingdom (2001) and Distant Palaces (2004). His last two novels (El navegante dormido, Tusquets, 2008; El bailarín ruso de Montecarlo, Tusquets, 2010) deal with themes of isolation and exile.
Speaking of his former life in Cuba (in El País, 29/05/2010), the novelist describes it as a state of ‘insile’, being inside without being there, and this sense of internal isolation suffuses El navegante dormido. His most recent work, La última función, a theatre-ballet piece which premiered in Miami in 2010, was written for and starred the Cuban prima ballerina, Rosario ‘Charín’ Suárez.
Featured Reading Group Title
El navegante dormido (The Sleeping Seafarer)
El navegante dormido is the story of an old, ramshackle house on an isolated Cuban beach and the various generations of an extended family who live among the slowly decaying remnants of a past which no longer exists: their furniture, books, music and memories. The novel opens in October 1977 as a strong hurricane approaches the island and the Godínez family gathers in the house to batten the windows against both the storm and the outside world, as they have done so often before. As the menace of the hurricane comes ever closer and tension mounts, Jafet, one of the third generation of the family, decides the moment has finally arrived to challenge the sea, perhaps more his natural environment than the island itself, and make for ‘The North’.
The story is narrated by Valeria, Jafet’s cousin, who, thirty years after the hurricane, is living in a beautiful apartment in the Upper West side of Manhattan. As she recalls the events of those few days she also builds up a vivid picture of the family. However, throughout the novel, Abilio Estévez, succeeds in creating a constant state of uncertainty as to the actual status of the narrative: if it is Valeria, as the narrator claims, who is writing, it is not clear whether what she is creating is a memoir, fiction or a mixture of the two.
Narrated in a deceptively simple prose, Abilio Estévez’s novel offers a completely original vision of Cuba. It is also a novel of exile: the Gordínez family is exiled from the island on which they live; the older members are exiled from their pasts by an unacceptable present reality, and from their loved-ones by their decision to flee that reality. By avoiding any sense of nostalgic sentimentality or ideological discourse, Estévez achieves a breathtaking description of Cuban reality.
Recommended by Christina MacSweeney
- El navegante dormido was featured in our Spanish-language Reading Group for Winter 2011-12
- Christina MacSweeney’s sample translation from The Sleeping Seafarer (319) is available to download for free. Let us know what you think by commenting below.