Multiple sources report the recent increase in Cubans’ attempts to cross the Florida Straits. It has been 20 years since the so-called maleconazo of 1994 led to the “Wet foot/dry foot” migration policy that returns Cubans intercepted at sea (wet foot) or affords them residency if they make it to shore (dry foot). It seems the policy’s 50/50 chances continue to provide enough hope for some Cubans to take to the sea. María Elena Llana’s “Five-Hundred Year-Old Rum” is but one of the stories included in the forthcoming collection of her work An Address in Havana/Domicilio habanero, to examine the island’s historical (im)migrations. In it, Cuba is for explorer Fernando de Soto just a “rung” on the ladder to his success. Unlike in history, however, de Soto is not the story’s protagonist. One dark evening, his wife Isabel de Bobadilla, the first governess of the island, comes across another “Chabela” lamenting the departure of her partner on the Havana streets of the mid-1990s. Although the means and motives change throughout the centuries, each “exodus” causes a human suffering Llana portrays, through her use of humor and the uncanny, as an enduring commonality.This collection from Cubanabooks is a “Journey Back to the Source,” to quote Alejo Carpentier’s classic story title, but from the point of view of the late twentieth century and of interest to Cubanabooks’ readers, from a female point of view.
In “A Five Hundred Year-Old Rum” the catalyst for this fictitious meeting across five hundred years is La Giraldilla, the small weathervane atop the Castillo de Fuerza that also appears on bottles of Havana Club rum. The bottle is just one of the objects that hurls us through time without moving an inch from An Address in Havana.
A razor, perfume, a mirror, a tapestry or even a telephone. Objects that mutely surround us every day have given Llana (Cienfuegos, 1936) fodder for over fifty years of short story writing. Through her narrative craft they carry a simple yet profound message: that time may be looping over itself, that chance encounters are not so random, and above all that the great beyond may perhaps be neither that great nor too far away, but rather pulsing through our day to day existence on this or some other shore, whether we chance the journey or not.
More stories like this await you at An Address in Havana. Available for online pre-order now at Cubanabooks.