Obejas, Achy. “The Tower of the Antilles”, Akashic Books, 2017.
After the Revolution
It has been awhile since we last heard from Achy Obejas so when I received a copy of her new short story collection, I eagerly began to read and found that times way too quickly. “The Tower of Antilles” is about the Cuban community after the revolution and as the blurb says they “are haunted by islands: the island they fled, the island they’ve created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again”. The ten stories shine a light on Cuban culture and the innermost lives of her characters. The overall theme of identity, both national and personal is the center of the book and this what propels her stories. The characters have contradictory feelings about their motherland and the experiences that this brings about. The stories look at realization and stoicism and loss and displacement. They really spoke to me as one who lost his city to a hurricane and had to start life over again in a new place and with new people while searching for who I really am. I still do not have the answer to whether a home can be rebuilt in a new after the old home ceases to be.
Here we meet Cuban migrants who never quite escape the land they’ve left and understand that one’s place of birth will always be one’s first home. The Cuban search for identity is about having power and/or the lack of power.
We are at a time in American history in which immigration is a major issue and Obejas writes about immigration with all of the possible emotions that it carries. We have longing, desire, anger and wonderment as we read about the different Cubas that have existed in time and are seen from different perspectives. What remains constant are beauty and conflict.
The Cubans that Obejas has drawn are haunted by their former home yet know that it will never be again. We meet a Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the Revolution triumphed, of those who have to deal with separation, split families and the loss of blood ties, the discovery of family betrayal, fantasies of escape and so on. The events that the characters have to live with are beyond their control and power showing us how we all face history and fate.