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Cuban Currency

Cuban Currency: The Dollar and “Special Period” Fiction

Esther Whitfield
Volume: 21
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Cuban Currency
    Book Description:

    Cuban Currency is the first book to address the effects on Cuban literature of the country’s spectacular opening to foreign markets that marked the end of the twentieth century. Exploring the work of Zoé Valdés, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Antonio José Ponte, and others, Esther Whitfield draws out writers’ engagements with the troublesome commodification of Cuban identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-5396-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Chapter 1 Selling Like Hot Bread: New Money, New Markets
    (pp. 1-34)

    “We’re what’s happening,” declares Manolín the Salsa Doctor, in the chorus to a song that hit Havana’s airwaves and streets in 1996. He continues, showing off : “We’re what sells like hot bread . . . we’re the greatest.”¹ Even from the mouth of Manolín, the refrain is ambivalent: it is a challenge to rivals in the music charts that nevertheless lends itself to displays of national pride.² But when this same refrain becomes the epigraph to Pedro Juan Gutiérrez’s novelEl Rey de la Habana(1999), its rallying cry wanes and its potential audience is radically displaced. For although...

  4. Chapter 2 Dollar Trouble: The Roots of Special Period Fiction
    (pp. 35-66)

    “I gave you my whole life,” cries the cover of Zoé Valdés’s 1996 novel, and we can almost hear the love-torn tones of the Cuban boleros for which each of its chapters is named. There is something missing, though: the lament lacks a subject, a singer to give it voice and to give “all I had,” as Nadia Benabid’s English translation puts it. This line about giving gives away little, but the strains of its painful exchange should resonate as we move from the nostalgia-laden bolero to Cuba’s dynamic cultural boom. Here exchange is explicitly monetary—determined, in fact, by...

  5. Chapter 3 Covering for Banknotes: Books, Money, and the Cuban Short Story
    (pp. 67-96)

    “Money,” the title of a short story by Ronaldo Menéndez, could hardly be more explicit about the cause of the social turmoil amid which it was written. Published in 1997, after the collection in which it is included won that year’s Casa de las Américas prize for short fiction, Menéndez’s story is set in late July 1994. Cuba was by then a year into its dual monetary system, with pesos circulating alongside dollars. Riots in Havana would soon provoke a Castro-sanctioned exodus of thousands of rafters to the United States.¹ The story’s title is an English word, borrowed from the...

  6. Chapter 4 Markets in the Margins: The Allure of Centro Habana
    (pp. 97-126)

    The cover ofBrudna trylogia o Hawanieruns little risk of being misunderstood. Published in Warsaw in 2004, it speaks an international vernacular of erotica: a close-up photograph of a naked female body, dark-skinned and glistening in the studio light, manicured fingers poised suggestively over the crotch. And yet the relationship of the photograph to the Havana of the title, and of that Havana to readers in Poland and the other fourteen countries in which the novel was published, and between these readers and Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Cuban author of the originalTrilogía sucia de la Habana (Dirty Havana Trilogy),...

  7. Chapter 5 The Ruined City: Artists and Spectators of Decay
    (pp. 127-154)

    Before swooping into thesolarwhere he will murder a young woman in the gory finale to Miguel Mejides’sPerversiones en el Prado(Perversions on Prado Street), the Rocamora character—a solitary misfit metamorphosed into a bird of doom—surveys the city before him. From his perch on the fortress of El Morro, where he remembers dead soldiers of centuries past, he has hopes for the moribund city’s rebirth, that it will “rise again from beneath the earth.”¹ For the present, however, Havana is in ruins. The city appears as “Long-suffering Havana that had resisted attack by her own sons,...

  8. Afterword
    (pp. 155-156)

    As I revised the early chapters of this manuscript, the U.S. dollar was withdrawn from circulation in Cuba. Some months later, Fidel Castro suggested that the special period had ended. And in case these reminders of the precariousness of my project were not enough, as I completed it in the summer of 2006 an unwell Castro transferred the leadership of Cuba to his brother Raúl and raised to fever pitch the anticipation that neither he nor his revolution was much longer for this world.

    Faced with the prospect of immediate irrelevance—or, as Carlos Garaicoa describes Havana’s Microbrigade projects, of...

  9. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 157-158)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 159-190)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 191-210)
  12. Index
    (pp. 211-218)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 219-220)