THE AUTHOR OF 13 BOOKS of prose and poetry, including a translation (with Mark Statman) of Federico García Lorca’s Poet in New York (2007), Pablo Medina has slowly nurtured an unassuming but distinguished career in letters. He identifies proudly as a Cuban American, and his family history and political leanings play a prominent role in his work. His memoir Exiled Memories: A Cuban Childhood (1990), for instance, is an elegant account about growing up in Cuba during the 1950s, a decade marked by the leadership of Fulgencio Batista and the rise to power of Fidel Castro. Among the photographs included in the book is a snapshot of Medina, a child of 12, boarding one of the last flights to New York City out of Havana, just before Castro assumed control of the island.
The 1990s marked a resurgence of Cuban childhood memoirs, including Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s Next Year in Cuba: A Cubano’s Coming-of-Age in America (1995), Virgil Suárez’s Spared Angola: Memories from a Cuban-American Childhood (1997), Flor Fernández Barrios’s Blessed by Thunder: Memoir of a Cuban Girlhood (1999), and Carlos Eire’s childhood memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy (2003), winner of the National Book Award. This movement in nonfiction spoke to the impulse in the Cuban American community to document the surviving stories of Cuba’s first generation of exiles, now growing old and dying, many of who still cling to the dream of returning home after the end of Castro’s reign.
Cuban American fiction continued to flourish, especially with the rise to prominence of such authors as Oscar Hijuelos, whose novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love (1989) was the first by a Latino author to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize; Ernestro Mestre-Reed, author of The Lazarus Rumba (1991); Cristina García, whose novel Dreaming in Cuban (1992) was a National Book Award finalist; and Achy Obejas, author of Memory Mambo (1996). These works explore, among other themes, the complexities of a Cuban identity and culture after the revolution, including the negotiation of feminism, assimilation and LGBT issues within the borders of Cuban traditions. Indeed, the transition from insider to outsider offered plenty of literary territory.
In many ways, Pablo Medina couldn’t have picked a better moment to make his literary debut. But though he released his first novel in 1994, The Marks of Birth took an original direction that likely cost Medina the critical attention it deserved. The Marks of Birth revolves around Antón García Turner, whose Caribbean family was forced out of an unnamed island by its dictator Nicolás Campión. The novel traces the family’s cultural dislocation and Antón’s difficulty in acculturating, even within an assimilated Cuban Miami, where he attempts to live, briefly, as A. G. Turner. By shaping a narrative outside of history, Medina sidesteps the overshadowing figure of Castro and illuminates the tragedy of exile and the emotional pull of añoranza, that indescribable but powerful longing for home. The García Turners’s tenacious desire to see the overthrow of Nicolás Campión’s (a thinly veiled Castro) and reclaim their native citizenship is so strong they are incapable of acqu...read more