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In his Trilogía sucia de La Habana [Dirty Havana Trilogy] (1998), made up by Anclado en tierra de nadie (Anchored in No-Man’s Land), Nada que hacer (Nothing to Do)and Sabor a mí (The Taste of Me, Gutierrez navigates through complex situations that life has etched into his memory, showing his ability to mediate between pain and the possibility of transforming it into lucidity. The narrative reveals an intense and localized Havana, specifically the densely populated downtown area of Centro Habana. It is a location that struggles with memories of time past and also with its own aging and deterioration.
Above all, the book deals with Centro Habana in the 1990s, submerged in the precariousness of existence from the lack of electricity to the shortage of food. That is Pedro Juan’s habitat, perfect for showing borderline situations that contribute much flavor to his prose. It possesses a strong, spontaneous identity that helps it resist the most unpredictable of assaults. It also has the Malecón, the city’s marvelous “balcony” overlooking the sea, which provides human beings the chance to fill their lungs with hope.
Language, behavior, the speed with which things happen, precariousness and, particularly, a gallery of odors ranging from the most seductive to the most repulsive, may make us think of a regional prose, the literature that one district is able to contribute to national literature.
His work has been classified as “dirty realism” since Gutierrez moves in a style that refuses to apply any sort of whitewash. This narrative strategy of his is also visible in El Rey de La Habana (The King of Havana) (1999), Animal tropical (Tropical Animal) (2000), El insaciable hombre araña (The Insatiable Spider-man) (2002) and Carne de perro (Dog Meat) (2003).
His major forte lies in knowing how to put together a rich and chaotic universe as seen from one point in the city. Many of the characters in this universe are people wandering around without a plan, seeking some scrap of salvation in any way they can. The narrator almost always becomes one of the characters, if not the main one, and with his tolerant attitude commits to the other characters.
Throughout his literary oeuvre, Pedro Juan Gutiérrez has firmly inserted himself into an area of Cuban literature that dynamites its way through prejudices and false poses. It does not fear marginality; indeed, it uses it as a source. This prose acknowledges its Cuban roots in the work of an author such as Carlos Montenegro and it passes through others such as Reinaldo Arenas and Guillermo Vidal.
His stories are generally peopled by sexually available men and women who are capable of driving some foreigner (or Cuban) crazy. The myth of Cuban sexuality has become one of our trademarks and has grown uncontrollably. This sexuality is emphasized when it is compared with others and can be seen in Animal Tropical where friction between the worlds of Sweden and Havana are made clear. Generally, the origin of these conflicts is autobiographical since Pedro Juan Gutiérrez enters and leaves his Island creating a relationship of dependence and rejection that uses language as its ally.
Gutierrez’ poetry is another important facet of his work: it is reflexive and profoundly spiritual as seen beautifully in his Arrastrando hojas secas hacia la oscuridad (Dragging Dry Leaves towards Obscurity).
January 2015 This article formed part of the January 2014 issue of What’s On Havana The definitive monthly travel & culture guide to Havana Download our current issue of What’s On Havana, your definitive travel, culture and entertainment guide for all things happening in Havana, Cuba’s bustling and enigmatic capital city. We include features from around Cuba written by the best international travel writers covering Cuba. Our monthly online digital magazine is also available in Spanish and French.
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