The writer Edmundo Desnoes, the Cuban who did not fit into any shore, dies | Culture



Edmundo Desnoes spent his last years “looking and leaving,” as they say in Cuba: lying in bed, with his legs crossed and his long forearms as a pillow, meekly waiting for death. He ate just enough and barely talked to his partner, Felicia. His body seemed healthy, but his soul was weary. At 93 years old, he had decided to resign from life. A resignation that became effective in the early hours of last Tuesday.

Born on October 2, 1930, he was the son of a Cuban of Spanish origin and a Jamaican mother who spoke to him in English. Perfectly bilingual, he spent his childhood between his native Havana and New York, but he never felt his mestizo identity as a wealth, but rather as a tear that prevented him from fitting into the world. He had as his first mentors the two most important Cuban intellectuals of his time: the writer José Lezama Lima, who made him known in the magazine originsand the painter Wifredo Lam.

After debuting with the book Everything is on fire (1952), he met María Rosa Almendros, daughter of the exiled Spanish pedagogue Herminio Almendros, whom he married in 1956. After a brief period in Caracas, they tried the experience of living on a desert island, in the Bahamas, from where they went. evicted due to difficult coexistence with mosquitoes. They settled in New York and there he worked as a journalist for the magazine Vision until the triumph of Fidel and his bearded men in Sierra Maestra.

“He was one of the writers of the controversial letter in which Pablo Neruda was reproached for having accepted an invitation from the Pen Club of New York.”

Returning to Cuba, Desnoes and María Rosa fervently joined the revolutionary movement. He was integrated into the supplement Monday of Revolution, from Cabrera Infante, she became involved in the founding of Casa de las Américas. After the closing of MondayDesnoes placed himself under the orders of Alejo Carpentier at the National Editorial of Cuba, where, together with his friend Ambrosio Fornet, he tackled the project of publishing masterpieces of universal literature with spectacular circulations for a country in the process of literacy.

After cutting his teeth as a novelist with No problem (1961) and The cataclysm (1965), his consecration came with Memories of underdevelopment (1965), the apocryphal diary of a Cuban bourgeois full of doubts at the time of great certainties—the Cold War Missile Crisis—which director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea brought to the cinema, three years later, with an indisputable masterpiece.

It was the greatest success of a career that also experienced noise. Desnoes, who had served as Pablo Neruda’s driver in Havana, was one of the writers of the controversial letter in which the Chilean was reproached for having accepted an invitation from the New York Pen Club. He was also among the names mentioned by Heberto Padilla in the infamous confession that he made at the headquarters of the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (Uneac), and which Desnoes refused to attend. Behind the Padilla case, which represented an irreparable schism between intellectuals related to the Revolution throughout the planet, the so-called Gray Quinquennium would open in Cuba, which installed a harsh climate of censorship and repression. Desnoes, divorced from María Rosa and remarried to Virgen Tabares, was sent first as a teacher to the School of Industrial Design, and later to the Department of Educational Cinematography of the Ministry of Education.

At that time he had also stood out as an art critic and essayist on photography, with pioneering texts such as The photographic image of underdevelopment either To see you better, Latin America, along with the Venezuelan Paolo Gasparini. It was he who invited him to the Venice Biennale in 1979, at which time he decided to go into self-exile. He soon moved to the United States, where he obtained a teaching position at Five College, helped by a new partner, the American professor Carollee Bengelsdorf.

There he published his most controversial project, the anthology The devices in the flower, where he brought together texts by renowned Cuban writers along with others by preeminent figures of the regime such as Fidel Castro or Che Guevara. And although Cabrera Infante – who wrote a furious letter to EL PAÍS titled ‘Against Edmundo Desnoes’ – and Reinaldo Arenas come to consider him little less than their nemesis, the book will remain a precocious attempt to reconcile two antagonistic sides under the idea of ​​the homeland and common tradition, anticipating what is currently the dominant trend. In such a polarized context, his unforgivable sin was not embracing anti-Castroism, despite leaving the island.

Desnoes will reunite in New York with his first young love, the journalist and writer Felicia Rosshandler, with whom he will spend his last decades. Away from the literary world for years, in 2007 he surprised by publishing Development memories in a small Spanish publishing house, Mono Azul: a sort of sequel to his greatest success and an implicit tribute to his brother-in-law, the Oscar-winning director of photography, Néstor Almendros. The work was also made into a film by a young Cuban director, Miguel Coyula, and achieved some prestige in the independent circuit.

In any case, Desnoes’ laurels did not grow again as before. He did manage to return to Cuba as a jury for the Casa de las Américas Award in 2003, where he was applauded and received as a prodigal son. There he was able to verify that Memories of underdevelopment It continues to speak to readers today, more than half a century after its publication. That was his consolation despite feeling, as perhaps he had felt all his life, that his split heart did not fit on any of the shores of the Straits of Florida. The Revolution, which once gave him the mirage of belonging to a place and a people, was something else.

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