Latest Review: "One Hundred Bottles" by Ena Lucia Portela
Julia Haav is a publicist for Europa Editions and is completing a master’s degree in the humanities, with a focus on contemporary Latin American literature, at NYU. I also believe she’s one of my newest GoodReads friends, and she’s the author of a very interesting piece on five Latin American books about Germans.
Ena Lucia’a Portela won the 2002 Jaen Prize for this book and is the author of several other works of fiction. I’m not usually a blurb man (jesus that sounds dirty), but the praise on this book is stunning. Esther Allen, Natasha Wimmer, and Jose Manuel Prieto all have amazing things to say about Portela and her novel. This line from Prieto might be the most laudatory: “Without doubt one of the best writers Cuba has produced in recent years.”
Anyway, here’s the opening of Julia’s review:
When Z. was a child in Havana she learned how to disassemble and reassemble the engines of classic American cars. Z., the narrator of Ena Lucía Portela’s One Hundred Bottles, describes this skill as the most useful thing she knows, and her aptitude at the art of reconstruction is made beautifully clear in this compact but panoptic portrait of modern Cuba in crisis. One Hundred Bottles is a novel about novels and novelists, and about a writer’s duty to deconstruct and rearrange prevailing systems. More specifically, it is a novel about two writers living through The Special Period of the 1990s, when the collapse of the USSR, and the cessation of Soviet petroleum imports, led to a devastating economic collapse.
Z., who narrates in a conversational and colloquial monologue, is an overweight twentysomething at work on an unnamed book. She lives in a single room in a decrepit mansion that has become overrun with migrants from the countryside and their unruly pets. Named after Tchaikovsky’s code letter for homosexuals, Z. is the unlikely product of a Parisian mother who died in childbirth and an openly, and flamboyantly, gay Cuban father who long ago left for San Francisco. Enmeshed in an abusive relationship with Moisés—a man so terrible he seems to be both misogyny and misanthropy incarnate—she is at once always and never alone. Her sharp but caustic best friend Linda tells Z. that her place in life is the same as her place in the alphabet.
Linda, it just so happens, is also at work on a book, about a double homicide, called 100 Bottles on the Wall.
Click here to read the full piece.