Exiled Cuban Author, Abilio Estevez: "It Does Not Matter to Return or Not Return"

02/18/2015 12:18 am ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

Abilio Estevez
Abilio Estevez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana-Barcelona, 17 February 2015 -- During this year's International Book Fair in Havana, Abilio Estevez's novel, Los palacios distantes (Distant Palaces), was presented. Living in Barcelona for the last fifteen years, on this occasion the author brings us the story of Victorio, a character who shares his pains and passions.

A few hours after the launch of the book in the Alejo Carpentier room, the novelist with a degree in Hispanic Language and Literature responded by email to some questions for the readers of 14ymedio, from Barcelona's Gothic Quarter where he lives and creates.

14ymedio: To those who still haven't read Los palacios... and hope to get a copy at the Book Fair, what would you like to warn them about before they enter your pages?

Estevez: Nothing, I would not warn them. I think should have its own importance, and the author should pass as unnoticed as possible. Also, the book should always be a mystery to solve, an adventure about which you have no idea. When I was in high school, for example, there were many books I didn't read because of "warnings" from my teachers. Or I prejudged them, if I read on the back of Buddenbrooks that it was "a reflection of bourgeois decadence." Later I read those books, I enjoyed them, and I realized the time I had lost because of the "warnings," which most of the time were too biased.

"I'm not one who is going to close doors on himself." 

14ymedio: The novel was originally published by Tusquets Editores, in 2002. What was the process to achieve this Cuban edition?

Estevez: Yes, the Tusquets edition came out 13 years ago. Some time ago Alfredo Zalvidar wrote me kindly asking for permission to publish Los palacios distantes in the publishing house he directed, Ediciones Matanzas. I was very pleased. I told him yes, of course. I'm not one who is going to close doors on himself. I put him in contact with the rights office of Tusquests Editores, and that's all I know. For the process on the Matanzas side you'll have to ask Zalvidar.

14ymedio: Are you surprised that your book is being presented at an event where exiled writers are often excluded?

Estevez: Yes, a little surprised. Although Ediciones Matanzas has published José Kozer, Gastón Baquero... In any event, there is a lot in my country that doesn't surprise me. Neither for the better nor the worse.

14ymedio: Laughter, dreams and hope slip into the life of Victorio, the protagonist of Los palacios... despite his living a reality that is falling to pieces, like his own house. How much of your own personal experience is in your story?

Estevez: Certainly there is a lot of my own experience such as, for example, Victorio's homosexuality and the collapse of his house. However, I believe that it's a mistake to confuse the character with the author. However much of me is in Victorio, it is also true that there are many other people and, as is natural, imagination. There is a moment in the novel, for example, when Victorio says he never knew love. A true friend, a night of confidences, said to me, "It has happened with me as with you." "What happened to me?" I asked. Never having known love. I had to laugh. However confessional a novel may seem, it is no more than that, a novel.

14ymedio: How do you deal with distance when writing about a reality that you haven't lived since two decades ago?

Estevez: I suppose this is difficult if you try to write precisely about a certain "reality." I suppose it might have been difficult for Emile Zola or for Miguel de Carrion. But for me, I'm not interested in sociology disguised as fiction, something more than reality concerns me, isf we reduce the word to its sociopolitical connotations. I am not a "costumbrista" - a novelist of quaint manners. At least I don't want to be one. And the world (and this is something that has to be discovered) is fortunately wide and strange, and the problems of human beings are alike and different in each place where one lives. The same distance as literary material. I don't live this reality, but I live another that also wants to be narrated. Also, I always remember and quote that phrase of Nabokov's in a wonderful interview, when he responded that everything he needed of Russia he carried with him.

14ymedio: What have you brought to your writing life in Barcelona? How much have you changed from the point of view of writing your experiences as an immigrant?

Estevez: Everything you experience brings something to literature if you are alert to it. Barcelona is a cultured and beautiful city. And I believe that the mere act of walking through the Gothic Quarter transforms the vision you might have about anything. With regards to exile, it seems to me an extraordinary experience, even if it is painful. When I was a child and they took me to church, I heard a prayer to the Virgin that at some point said something like, "To you we cry, the banished children of Eve." And then I wondered, "Why banished? Banished from where?" I didn't understand until much later, although my interpretation had nothing to do with religion, because I wasn't religious. I remember a phrase of Elias Canetti: "Only in exile does one realize how much of the world has always been a world of outlaws." It's very good for a writer, this sensation of losing things, of knowing that you are not going to have them again.

14ymedio: Readers have followed and admired your work for years. Will we soon be able to enjoy a presentation of your novels where you will be physically present? Will you return to this Havana of "the distant palaces"?

Estevez: Thank you for the "followed and admired." This question has no answer. I do not know. It does not matter to return or not return, because what I really want to return to is the good times that I lived. And that, to my knowledge, is impossible.

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14ymedio, Cuba's first independent daily digital news outlet, published directly from the island, is available in Spanish here. Translations of selected articles in English are here.