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GUILLERMO CABRERA INFANTE | 1929-2005

Posted February 22, 2005 by mattlawrence in Cuba Culture.
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Spanish literature loses Cuban writer, icon

Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a Cuban writer who earned praise for his books and won the most prestigious prize in Spanish literature, died at age 75.

Posted on Tue, Feb. 22, 2005
BY FABIOLA SANTIAGO AND NANCY SAN MARTIN
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Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, heralded as one of the most original voices of contemporary Spanish letters, died Monday night in a London hospital. He was 75.

His effervescent novel Tres Tristes Tigres, published in English as Three Trapped Tigers, captured the rum-soaked, salacious Havana of the late 1950s and became a classic of Cuban literature. As most of his writings, the novel bubbled with the witty Cuban speak of the streets and a cast of eccentric characters.

Although he wrote ‘‘in Cuban’’ instead of the high-brow Spanish of many of his contemporaries, he earned high-brow praise, winning in 1997 Spain’s Cervantes prize, the most prestigious in Spanish literature.

Cabrera Infante died from septicemia resulting from a variety of health problems he had developed in recent months, relatives told the Spanish news service EFE. He had been admitted to Chelsea and Westminster Hospital last week after falling in his London apartment and breaking his hip.

The writer’s wife, Miriam Gomez, had said that her husband was being treated for pneumonia, in addition to the broken hip. She also said he suffered from diabetes. He underwent a heart bypass operation last August.

Cabrera Infante also was known as an outspoken critic of Fidel Castro’s regime. He had actively opposed dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, and after Castro took power in 1959, Cabrera Infante became a cultural representative for the new government in Brussels from 1962 to 1965. By 1965, his discontent with the totalitarian direction of the Castro government led to a break over a highly critical interview.

Cabrera Infante then sought refuge in London, where he has lived the last four decades, authoring La Habana para un infante difunto (published in English as Infante’s Inferno) and Mea Cuba, among other works.

Born on April 22, 1929, in Gibara, a small town in eastern-most Oriente province, Cabrera Infante moved with his family to Havana at the age of 12.

In 1950, he began to study journalism, one of his grand passions along with film.

He went on to write film criticism under the pen name of G. Cain for the magazine Carteles and served as editor of a cultural magazine Lunes de Revolucion.

He was considered one of the best film critics of Latin America and his collection of criticism, Un oficio del Siglo XX (A 20th Century Job), reads like a novel.

For a generation of Cuban-American writers, born on the island but exiled as children and adolescents, his books were a window into the Cuba they never knew. And for the same generation in Cuba, reading them was an act of defiance.

‘‘He was probably one of the three most important Cuban writers of the 20th century, known for his sarcastic criticism of the Castro regime,’’ said Jaime Suchlicki, director of the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

‘‘He represented so many things. He was one of the first exile writers who really had international recognition with a work that was not only very Cuban, but very Havana centered,’’ said Uva de Aragon, assistant director at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

‘‘He had a very personal style,’’ she said. ``He has influenced many writers, not only in exile but in Cuba. That’s a lot to say for a writer whose books were not allowed to circulate in the country.’‘

``He immortalized an era [with Tres Tristes Tigres] and a nightlife in Havana that is now gone and will remain in his books. He was not a congenial man; he was a man who suffered a lot, who had a lot of difficulties in coming to terms with the reality of exile.

``But more than that he was un habanero. Cuba was present in his work all the time. He represented a voice of dissent that was respected worldwide. He took the essence of the country, its language, its humor and made it into a monumental artistic work.’‘

In Cuba, news of his death began to spread late Monday and was met with deep sorrow. ‘‘It’s an enormous loss for the Cuban culture and our identity as a nation,’’ dissident journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, 64, said in a telephone interview from Havana. ``His cubanía was always present.’‘

Espinosa, who was among 75 government opponents jailed during an island-wide crackdown in 2003 and was released from prison in November for health reasons, said Cabrera Infante’s literature ‘‘was well-followed’’ there and his books circulate clandestinely even though they are banned.

‘‘His grandeur as a writer broke all barriers, even those placed by the government,’’ he said.

Poet Raúl Rivero, also one of the recently released intellectuals, said: ``It’s a great loss, he leaves a great void.’‘

Member Comments

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On March 01, 2005, PABLOPUEBLO wrote:

Just Guillermo could be side by side as an equal,with the
fatty Lezama,They both are the best of the best of cuban
literature in the past century.It is sad to see the cuban
officials,Abel Prieto and others,said nothing in memory of
Cabrera Infante,he was a dissenter since he left this diplomatic post in Belgium and so what,he was always a cuban
who had the super-talent to write well,when you are incapable
to recognize the value of your “enemies”,you are lesser than
nothing.