What The Playwright’s House can teach us about Cuba today — notes from the author
By Dariel Suarez
My debut novel, The Playwright’s House, is set in 2008’s Cuba, during the transition of power from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl. Although the central events in the book are from thirteen years ago, in a tragic twist of fate, they actually reflect some of what’s taken place on the island since the protests that broke out on July 11, 2021. Asking for political, social, and economic changes, thousands of Cubans took to the streets all over the country. Led in part by the San Isidro Movement, a group of artists and journalists who’ve been fighting government censorship and persecution, the protests received international attention and support. They also caused a wave of repression which continues to this day.
In light of this reality, my book, which I was promoting last summer during a mostly remote series of readings, felt somewhat insignificant. I found myself needing to speak about what was happening in Cuba. It seemed important to amplify the diversity of voices and perspective there, to call out the American-centric politization of the protests, and to educate people on the consequences faced by those who criticize the government.
However, the more I spoke to audience members about the novel — and hearing from Cuban and Cuban American readers in particular — I realized that capturing key aspects of that world is perhaps a form of recording and amplifying a truth artists on the island aren’t able to share without repercussions. The research I conducted, the intentional focus on Cuban readers as the primary audience, and the historical and cultural backdrop I chose to include were all a manifestation of my belief that these characters, their lives, and the complex and contradictory society they inhabited embodied an obscure reality in need of attention.
Thus, The Playwright’s House feels like a book I wrote not just for myself or its readers, but as a sort of vehicle into the inner lives of people who are directly impacted by what happens in their country: the kinds of obstacles and choices they face; the pressure to behave or speak in a certain way; the tension between familial loyalty and socio-political oppression. In the larger context of Cuba’s current situation, my novel is hopefully a glimpse into what lies beneath the surface.
Another thing I’ve had to examine is the intersection between my identity as a person and as an author. Although they’re often one and the same, fiction demands the kind of commitment to story that can occasionally clash with our role as members of a culture or place. Which is to say, am I okay with the parts of my writing that explore the people and entities at fault for what’s happened to so many artists and protestors in Cuba? Is the search for nuance and gray areas a betrayal of those who’ve suffered in real life?
Ultimately, I’m still wrestling with all of it. Even if I arrive at an answer, I suspect the writer in me will continue to prod and interrogate.
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