Friday, July 31, 2015

Spanish Lit Month, 2015: Cuban Writer Daina Chaviano

This is an exciting event co-hosted every year by Richard @ Caravana de Recuerdos and Stu @ Winstonsdad's Blog. This year, not only will books by Spanish-speaking authors be featured, but books by Catalan-speaking authors, as well. 

This event has just been extended to include the month of August, as well as July, which I'm very happy about! 


The book I will be reviewing is by Cuban writer Daina Chaviano, and is titled La Isla de los Amores Infinitos (The Island of Eternal Love). 

I first came across the original Spanish version of this novel at the 2008 Miami International Book Fair, where Chaviano was presenting the book for the first time. I attended this event, bought the book, and waited patiently in line for Chaviano to sign it for me. This novel, published by Grijalbo in Spain in 2006, was later reissued in an English translation by Riverhead Books, in 2008, with the title mentioned above.  I read the Spanish version in 2008, and have recently begun to read the English version, which is captivating me all over again!

Daina Chaviano

Born in Havana, Cuba, Ms. Chaviano has resided in the U.S. since 1991, but began her writing career on the island. Her work encompasses the genres of science fiction, fantasy, mainstream, and historical fiction, according to Wikipedia. I would say that The Island of Eternal Love should be categorized as belonging to the magic realism genre. It has elements of the supernatural and Gothic, as well as incorporating Celtic, Chinese, and African mythologies. 

She won her first award for the science fiction collection, Los Mundos Que Amo (The Worlds I Love) while still a college student in Cuba. This was the David National Prize for Best SF Book, in 1979. In 1989, she won "La Edad de Oro" (The Golden Age) National Prize for Children's and Young People's Literature, for Pais de Dragones (Country of Dragons). In 1998, she won the prestigious Azorin Prize in Spain, for her novel El Hombre, La Hembra, y El Hambre (The Man, The Female, and The Hunger), and in 2006, she won the Gold Medal in the Florida Book Awards, for Best Spanish Language Book (USA), for La Isla de los Amores Infinitos. She has won many other awards, as well.

Although I have only read La Isla de los Amores Infinitos (which I'm now reading in the English translation), I find that Chaviano's work really resonates with me. Like her, I am very much attracted to mythology, fantasy, and science fiction. I love magic realism, as well. In fact, I enjoy the type of literature that takes me out of this mundane, boring, reality, with its endlessly repetitious routines, and transports me to magical worlds, or to undreamed-of universes. 

Chaviano's writing style is also very appealing to me, with its poetic cadences and flowing rhythms. In the novel mentioned above, she effortlessly swept me along, fully immersing me in her imaginary world, which was part real, and part fantasy, and incorporated the deceptive takeover of Cuba by a brutal communist regime.

Another thing I love about Chaviano's work is that it shows influences by writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin and J.R.R. Tolkien, whom she greatly admires. In fact, she has always been interested in Anglo-Saxon mythology and legends, such as the Arthurian tales, just as I have.

Daina Chaviano " considered one of the most important female fantasy and science fiction writers in the Spanish language, along with Angelica Gorodischer (Argentina) and Elia Barcelo (Spain) forming the so-called 'feminine trinity of science fiction in America.' " (Wikipedia) 

Here are some of Chaviano's works, published in Cuba, the U.S., and abroad. They can all be found on Goodreads, as well as on her Amazon author page, listed below.

According to the Goodreads synopsis,  this is about a woman who has been contacted by interplanetary beings ever since she was a young girl. She had previously forgotten these contacts, and then suddenly remembers them. These beings showed her a panorama of Earth history -- from ancient Mayan ruins to the very beginnings of civilization, "......revealing hidden mysteries and sharing wonderful experiences. Strange things happen to many people: they see moving objects when no one is present, or hear voices when they are alone. Nevertheless, there is almost always the fear of not being understood or of being ridiculed that prevents them from sharing these experiences with others." (Goodreads)

This is a novel told from three different points of view. The really fascinating thing is that a race of winged beings with three eyes is part of the tale. The title of this very intriguing book is Fabulas de una Abuela Extraterrestre (Fables of an Extraterrestrial Grand-
mother), and it is a mix of fantasy and science fiction. This book won the Goliardos Fantasy International Award in Mexico in 2003. I happen to own it, so I really need to read it pretty soon, as I'd like to experience more of Chaviano's work. Perhaps I'll read and review this one, too, for Spanish Lit Month!

This book tells the story of how humans lived at the beginning of time, which was when there were no borders between  countries, when " was governed by the principles of fantasy, beauty, and love." (Goodreads) Humans and dragons co-existed peacefully with each other. Music flowed over the whole land, and life was good. In modern times, hardly anyone can see dragons except for a few chosen people, as most of humanity is steeped in materialistic goals. Both civilizations are contrasted in the book.

This is the second book in a series of four about the esoteric side of Havana. The protagonist, Gaia, is given instructions by her lover to meet a very mysterious woman who takes her to a mansion in which everything changes continuously. Gaia goes through several surrealistic experiences that will help her to find herself. There's an entire supernatural world inside this mansion, a world of gods in human form, and Gaia will never be the same again.

This totally enthralling novel, the fourth in the series on esoteric Havana, tells the story of a young woman, Cecilia, who feels displaced in the city of Miami, having left her native Cuba because of the Castro dictatorship. Through a series of interconnected stories, Cecilia learns about her own heritage, amidst several supernatural and mythological events, all of them related to the three ethnic groups that make up the Cuban people: the Chinese, the Spanish, and the African. 

Daina Chaviano is currently working on her next novel. She also received the Malinalli National Prize for the Promotion of the Arts in Mexico, in 2014. She was given the  prize for her contribution to the enrichment of literature in Spanish, as well as for her contribution to world literature, since her books have also been translated into nearly 30 languages.

Online Links



Brian Joseph said...

Chaviano sound so good. As you know I love the genres that her books encompass. I also usually like the magical realism style.

Looking through the of descriptions of her novels the plots sound so interesting and creative.

i need to read some contemporary science fiction/fantasy writers so I would like to read her books.

I am looking forward to your commentary on The Island of Eternal Love.

Have a great weekend Maria!

Maria Behar said...

Oh, I think she's a SUPERB writer! She's very imaginative. Although I've only read one of her books (first is Spanish, and now in English), I can see that she's great. She really resonates with me. In fact, although she's Cuban, like me, her preferences lie with Anglo-Saxon mythology. She loves several of my favorite writers -- Ursula K. LeGuin, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and Ray Bradbury. She also like Margaret Atwood, and the Arthurian tales. So I can really relate to her!

I don't know whether all of her books are available in translation, though. I know that "The Island of Eternal Love" is. If the others aren't, that's really too bad....She would become better known to English-speaking readers, as well as readers all over the world.

The book I'm reading is definitely in the genre of magic realism. All sorts of weird, supernatural things take place. For one thing, there's a haunted house that appears in different places, all over Miami. Chaviano lives in Miami, and this is how I first became interested in this novel.

I want to get the other novels in her series, "The Occult Side of Havana". They're all interrelated. I'm obviously very interested as well because Havana is the city I was born in. I lived there until, at the age of 9, I left Cuba with my family.

There are SO many terrific, more recent SF and fantasy writers! Orson Scott Card and Brandon Sanderson are two that come to mind. Octavia Butler is an African-American SF author I've also heard about. She has a novel titled "Kindred", that's supposed to be excellent. Sadly, she passed away in 2006, having been born in 1947. I just found out, too. I had no idea....

You know, I'm so glad that Stu and Richard have decided to extend Spanish Lit Month into August, because that gives me more time to really savor "The Island of Eternal Love"!

Thanks for the nice comment!! : )

Richard said...

Thanks for this intro to Chaviano, María. Although I myself am not really all that big a fan of either magical realism or literature of the fantastic not done by Borges, Bioy Casares or Cortázar (OK, I obviously make some exceptions for the latter type of storytelling!), the author sounds good at what she does and obviously the novel of hers you're reading must be of interest if you're willing to read it twice. Cheers!

Maria Behar said...

Hi, Richard!

I must sheepishly admit to not having read any of those authors....

Borges is, of course, a giant in the literary world. I should make it a priority to read his work. I believe I might own one of his books.

Judging from this one novel, Chaviano is excellent! And yes, I'm reading the book for the second time (albeit in English) because I find it totally fascinating! However, on this second reading, everything is somehow slightly different, because it's a translated work.

The review will be up pretty soon. Thanks for your comment!! :)