By Enrique Patterson
Cuba’s history can be read as a conflict between two nation projects which are not coagulated. One is exclusive and imposed from above, from which many of our independence heroes and successive governors have not escaped, from the Republican era to the present. The other project “springs from below” (Ortiz), and although it has not been reflected in representative institutions at the political level, it has formed the substance of a culture and national identity.
An area of the literature of young nations, (and Cuba is still a young nation since its nationality was really complete in the twentieth century after the advent of radio) tends to focus on presenting us the cosmos in which life unfolds during those national formative periods, showing us the human side of history; which is not the same as the story of the state’s own official historic perspective. In the case of Cuba, the literature that has approached these issues – I’m thinking for example in Carlos Loveira (1882 – 1928) or Manuel Cofiño (1936 – 1987) – has suffered from telling the story of life from the positive or negative view of official discourse, or from the experience of the exclusive elites themselves. El Lirio del Prado (The Lily of the Prado) is in my opinion, the first Cuban novel which follows the story of a family, their trials, tragedies, and struggles for survival from the everyday life experience of the lower classes, of the drivers of the other project of a nation which has more or less imposed a culture but has not been established as a nation project.
The novelist, through family history, shows us the formation and development of a social subject as present and crucial to our socio-historical reality as it is unknown in its inner circles; the blacks and mestizos who, despite having behaved – due to their role in the wars of Independence- as the true patricians of the country, have always been disenfranchised, reduced to a caricature of comic theater, the maid, the offender, or the policeman of television programs. Reynaldo Fernandez Pavon turns this subject into his main character, and the historical and existential journey of this character into another view of Cuban history.
The author offers us a saga where the drama, the integrity of the human spirit, the creativity, the courage, pride and humanity lead us to the dimension of universality. The author makes use of historical time as a resource and substance for the novel, where the characters are almost always the narrators of their own saga.
El Lirio del Prado is, nevertheless, a great love story, or rather a great story of loves, and also the story of a great woman: Rafaela Alfonso.
Miami, Florida, June 2012.