Book Review of Achy Obejas’s The Tower of the Antilles

It’s impossible to keep up with all the good literature coming out these days and Obejas is among the very best…

Original post by Michael Sedano found here:

Review: Achy Obejas. The Tower of the Antilles. Akashic Books, 2017.ISBN: 9781617755392
e-ISBN: 9781617755538

I’d move Achy Obejas’ book of short fiction, The Tower of the Antilles, to the top of my want-to-read list, if I hadn’t just read this intriguing gem of a collection from Akashic Press. Obejas’ deft hand and free-wheeling imagination craft ten stories to be read, then read again out of delight, perplexity, surprise, admiration.

As the title suggests, and Obejas’ prior works attest, Cuba occupies a central place in the stories and hearts of their characters. This is, after all, immigrant literature of the Cuban diaspora, with a generous sampling of eroticism.

Obejas’ characters don’t have a political axe to grind. Inured to hardship, leaving is a constant motive for people who are staying. The ones there find contentment in the way things are. Owing to the author’s U.S. origin, a majority of the characters are over here already. Some go back to visit, to connect with familia, uncover old resentments, party then hook up with a stranger.

Some of Obejas’ more singularly imaginative characters include a nightclub sex worker, a fellow whose imagination takes wing in a pile of flotsam, a book collector whose damaged roomie pilfers first editions. More quotidian characters populate accounts like an immigrant living in Chicago with her Cuban ex-lover, a traveler who returns to Cuba and gets hit hard by culture shock and Mayra’s laughing eyes, a brain tumor death sentence sends a woman to the Maldives to spend her final hours lying in bioluminescent water.

Readers will laugh at phonetic humor in “The Sound Catalog,” a character’s confusion over the expression, “Whenever you hear a bell ring, an angel gets its wings.” To the Cuban ex-lover’s ear, the words come out, “Whenever you hear a bell ring, anger turns on a swing.” This, and “Superman,” are the comic relief stories in a collection that leans toward the dark.

Interestingly, “The Sound Catalog” is one of the rare stories where characters have names. Most characters are “the man,” “the woman,” “we,” “I.” Absenting names is a way of giving these experiences an interchangeability, what happened to one person in a story could belong to a character a few stories later, or parallel any immigrant’s exigencies. Kimberly, the title character of the second story, is horribly unique.

There’s a signal example of parallelism in the piles of flotsam characters in the book’s opening and closing stories assemble. “The Collector” builds an assemblage of rafts and floating craft that brought people from the island to the Florida shore. “The Tower of the Antilles” could be an imaginary assemblage of collected vessels, existing in the mind of a woman in a coma, or being tortured. That’s one of the stories that will make you read it again, then turn back to “The Collector” and look back and forth for explanations.

Order The Tower of the Antilles from your local independent bookseller, or publisher-direct here.


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