Cuba and the Night

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The author of such bizarre—yet alluring—books as VIDEO NIGHT IN KATHMANDU (1988), THE LADY AND THE MONK (1991), and FALLING OFF THE MAP (1993), Pico Iyer has written his first novel with CUBA AND THE NIGHT. Over the years, Iyer has made a reputation for himself as a travel writer who can vividly describe even the most mysterious and misunderstood places. In CUBA AND THE NIGHT, Iyer has taken his title for the novel from a quote of the nineteenth century Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti who wrote “Dos patrias tengo yo: Cuba y la noche” (“Two fatherlands have I: Cuba and the night”). Indeed, it becomes evident that the ghost of Marti inhabits the hearts and minds of contemporary Cubans. They are both wedded to the island and to the yearnings for freedom which may take them away from their homeland. Iyer’s protagonist and narrator, Richard, is an American photojournalist who, while still in his thirties, has become a world- weary cynic. He has seen poverty and political upheavals in a number of countries, and he has taken sanctuary in the various nightclubs and bars that can be found in any city in the world.

Although Richard is married, he is both physically and emotionally detached from his wife. The idea of romance seems to have been erased from his lexicon. During the late 1980’s, he is sent to Cuba to report on how that country is coping with its isolation. On one of his trips there, he meets an attractive young Cuban woman named Lourdes. She has dreams of finding a better life. Although emotionally drained, Richard is drawn to her and, astonishingly, a love between them develops. As their love grows, there are new complications that must be resolved. Iyer is adept at penetrating both place and the people who inhabit that place. Richard struggles to come to terms with what is happening to his life and his worldview. His best laid plans go awry, but he has learned that he is still capable of loving. CUBA AND THE NIGHT has a quiet poignancy that speaks volumes about the human condition, about the need to not give up on love or dreams no matter what the outcome.