To kick off debate about the books currently doing the rounds of the literary sphere, Words on Paper has chosen the most recent offering of one of our contributors; Xavier Alcalá’s ‘Verde oliva’
To kick off debate about the books currently doing the rounds of the literary sphere, Words on Paper has chosen the most recent offering of one of our contributors; Xavier Alcalá’s “Verde oliva”. Just pick up the Galician original (published by Galaxia) and you will begin to understand the reasoning behind its colourful title. Leaf through the Spanish language version (published by Nowtilus) and you will know for sure. It’s a novel based on the autobiography of a secret agent, working for the Cuban revolution against the tyrant Batista.
The story is so close to what actually happened that the critic Ernesto Sánchez Pombo went so far as to call it a “report”, a description happily accepted by the author. In the novel the colour of the olive – the fruit of the olive tree – is the colour of hope. Olive was the colour of the uniforms of the guerrillas who fought in the Sierra Maestra. When she is discovered by the regime’s police in Havana, the protagonist, Mariana, flees to the mountains in search of her comrades. She believes that only among them can she stay alive, in order to go on fighting.
“Verde oliva” serves to show once again that authors of fiction often beat historians to the bounteous font of history. In this case, behind the nom de guerre Mariana stands Juana Maseda, a young Galician emigrant to Cuba, who attempted something which was impossible in Spain: bringing down a despot.
Her gripping adventure reveals the Cuban revolution as a struggle that went beyond divisions of class, political party and race. Debate about the latter, race, seems unspeakable today but seventy years ago in Cuba it certainly was not. In addition, it exposes what was doctored, distorted and covered up by the regime: that the civil war was fought in urban areas. The battles in the countryside were only minor clashes. This surprising work, unorthodox and engrossing, works best if you allow yourself to be swept away, to be submerged in its world – Cuba in the fifties – a world as impassioned as the real place, exuberant and fervent; the land where the two ideologies which have since dominated the Americas went head to head.
“Verde oliva” is currently being translated into French and English. We hope to release these new versions soon.