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Book Review: 'Everyone Leaves'

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A new window into Cuba and its creative life comes from the writer Wendy Guerra. It is her novel "Everyone Leaves," which has just been translated into English. The story is part fiction, part autobiography. Here's our reviewer Alan Cheuse.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: This novel takes the form of a diary kept from childhood on through early adulthood by a Cuban girl named Nieve - or Snow. That's a chilly name for Havana, but it seems fitting. Nieve, in her pages, demonstrates an uncanny ability to keep enough distance to write in a bracing, clarifying way about her life with her difficult parents, her alcoholic father and unbalanced mother and about the effects of growing up in the dire economic straits of Castro's Cuba.

After surviving her difficult childhood, she takes up a brush and studies to become a painter. She wins prizes, but she sees that her own work is really mediocre. The diary shows her truly excelling at working with language and making the world of Cuba known to the reader. Havana, for example, smelling of liquid gas and fresh fish from the salty air on the Malecon or witnessing buildings in old Havana crumbling in an instant or in a classic encounter, losing her virginity to a wheeling, dealing young Havana artist named Oswaldo(ph), an encounter that she describes with a freshness and intensity I haven't read before in any novel, European, North American or Cuban.

Fortunately for us, after they make love, Oswaldo falls asleep and she writes and writes and writes about what just happened in this diary. Her classic story about coming of age in a broken down revolutionary culture in the tropics, the book that she calls her luxury, my medicine, what keeps me standing, a book that delivers real news from Cuba in a lyrical way.

CORNISH: That was Alan Cheuse reviewing Wendy Guerra's novel "Everyone Leaves," which has just been translated into English. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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