Eros, history, identity... and Marta Rojas!
From the shots Marta Rojas heard during the wee hours of July 26th, 1953, in Santiago de Cuba, when the noises from the carnival conga were silenced, to the publication of her fourth novel (or fifth?, if we mention her testimony The dead man's cave), this untamable, imaginative and persevering woman has been mixing the excellences of journalism she began to cultivate 50 years ago that made her register in detail the Moncada's trial, with the requirements of fiction prose, to such a point that her work has become an essential reference within the contemporary Cuban narrative.
The readers appreciated these qualities during the cultural activity El Sabado del Libro; (Book's Saturday) that takes place at the Palacio Del Segundo Cabo, in Old Havana). The launching of her novel book Inglesa por un año -Being an Englishwoman by a year- , published by Letras Cubanas, and Alejo Carpentier's novel Award, in 2006, happened there... When commenting on the origin of her novel, Marta said: "Ive always been curious about the behavior of the neighbors living in Havana, when this city was occupied by the British troops".
I only found some popular ballads in Nicolas Guillen's Diary, some very nice verses that mentioned this historical fact. Some time ago, there was a symposium on the seizing of Havana by the British in 1762, but almost everything dealt with the different battles and political problems. I was not yet determined to write a novel with this topic, until one day when I went by Jústiz' alley and I happened to read a plaque located in front of Casa del Tango, in Old Havana.
The plaque made reference to the first woman Cuban writer and the first slave poet that lived at this place. They were the marquise of Jústiz and Francisco Manzano." "I focused all my attention on Doña Beatriz' date of birth and I guessed she probably was 29 years old when the British occupied the city of Havana. All of a sudden, I started to imagine the possible details of the occupation and the people and places: masters, slaves, church, white of the flat state, militias, government and the bottom port", the writer added.
"Besides - she pointed out -, I already knew that the Marquise had written a brief to the King, criticizing to the then Governor of the Island for surrendering Havana to the British invaders. My heart started to shake. I had the bull taken by the horns (using a Cuban colloquial saying)." Eros, history and identity are interwoven in the plot of Being an Englishwoman by one year, having the same intensity seen in other works like Santa Lujuria and El haren de Oviedo -Oviedo's Harem.
According to Humberto Arenal, one of the juries of Alejo Carpentier's Award, Marta Rojas "reveals in her narrative a research work of remarkable rigor, that depicts an epoch little dealt with Cuban Literature, and she achieves this with great verisimilitude, through her contemporary projection and an intelligent paraphrase of the language.
It is an important novel that will make a remarkable contribution to the historical fiction of Cuban narrative." In the meantime, Marta is working on a new fiction, while she attends our office day after, as a guardian angel. Her next novel? On Chinese influence in Havana. It will be a surprise...