Lessik, Alan. “The Troubleseeker”, Chelsea Station Editions, 2016.
A Contemporary Odyssey
Antonio is a native-born Cuban who faces his homosexuality in Cuba after the revolution and then in America. Alan Lessik tells his story using the ancient tradition of odyssey with Hadrian, the ancient emperor of Rome and demigod as his narrator and in the tradition of the “Santeria”, a syncretic religion that grew out of the slave trade of Cuba. Lessik brings the traditions of Santeria to classical Greek traditions of mythology and then uses them to present Antonio’s quest for love and freedom. For me, this is a special treat in that as I seldom, if ever, have the pleasure of reading a contemporary story told in classical style and it works perfectly. Therefore we can classify this as a modern/gay Cuban Santeria (which has really taken hold in Cuba recently. It emerged from the shadows of Cuban society when the country once again regained the right to practice religion. It is now practiced openly and all societal levels. It is uniquely Cuban and quite a dynamic way of worship) as well as a modern retelling of the Odyssey.
I learned here that the title “troubleseeker” is actually the translation of the name Odysseus and the plot of Lessik’s story is based upon and inspired by his partner, Rene Valdes Lopez. He brings together Hadrian’s search for redemption with Antonio’s story as he left Havana via the Mariel Boatlift, was detained in Wisconsin and then lived through the AIDS epidemic in this country as well as the technological revolution we have experienced here.
Lessik writes from the heart and it is easy to understand this since he is writing indirectly about the man he loves. He also takes risks in using the style that he does and in his first novel. “The Troubleseeker” is a beautiful look at love and at a male Cuban as he experiences great change in both his life and the life of his country. We actually go inside Antonio’s heart and see the love and emotions that rest there. I do not know how many writers would be able to write in this manner. Lessik lets us share not only the life but also the love of Antonio and it is a beautiful experience.
We have not really had much access to gay life in Cuba and to have this book is very special. I love that we have this novel that is not only entertaining but is one that will stay with us for a long time after closing its covers.
There is also historical value here. In addition to reading about post-revolutionary Cuba, we get a look, once again, at the devastation of the AIDS epidemic in this country. I, of course, was reminded on another gay Cuban— Reinaldo Arenas whose life was one of sexual pleasure and a way to gain power for himself and deal with his sexual identity.
Lessik gives wonderful descriptions and tells a story that pulls us in and keeps us turning pages. We are entertained, we are educated and we are given a great deal to think about. The question once again arises as to how a god could create something so terrible as AIDS—the same question that we ask about the Holocaust. I was very lucky to get an advanced copy of the book—the rest of you will have to wait until publication in September. It is worth every second of the wait.