Monday, 16 March 2009

tres tristes tigres three sad tigers review

tres tristes tigres tragaban trigo en un trigal
tras tus tres tristes tigres que triste estas trinidad

traditional tongue twister

in the early 90s ninety one or ninety two my memory fails me i took my seat at the cafe teatro bertolt brecht situated in the el vedado municipality havana to see a monologue by jorge cao called ejercicio para un actor exercise for an actor as part of the havana international theatre festival approximately sixty minutes later when the play finished i was still in a trance i had never experienced the gamut of emotions and feelings with which that monologue had left me and i do not think i have ever seen a play of better or even similar quality since then jorge cao tooks us the audience through a journey involving mirth and despair love and hatred his impersonation of albert kropp from all quiet on the western front left me then and still does now as i recall that moment with moist eyes and a lump in my throat going back home that night and whilst talking to my best friend about the play we had both just seen we came to the conclusion that what jorge cao had showed us that night was that art is above all a process and an artist and i also include writers in this category should never be afraid of experimentation whilst journeying through that process

almost twenty years later to the day i feel the same way about tres tristes tigres three sad tigers the famous novel by the cuban writer guillermo cabrera infante tres tristes tigres is a long literary experiment where there is a narrative and a plot which are far from conventional and yet manage to be at the same time highly entertaining in distorting the form in which ttt is written guillermo cabrera infante is also showing us that a novel need not follow the same template laid down by flaubert cervantes or goethe before him

one of the unsaid demands that we readers make of writers is that they do not jettison their innate insanity when entering their talleres de palabras we need them to absorb their environment and face up to their temporary paranoid schizophrenia the voices in which they hear their characters addressing each other the hallucinations about what they drink and eat the bizarre delusions of grandeur from which their personages suffer we need authors to keep them to adopt them to make them theirs because only then we will believe them and when their book is finished and sent to the printers they can go back to being normal it is then time for us readers to seek professional help

this is the trade off that cabrera establishes with the reader from the outset and i must admit that at least for me it paid off handsomely tres tristes tigres functions at many levels but there are three i would like to highlight above all

structure ttt does not follow the traditional lineal pattern although its plot revolves around three main characters in havana in the dying days of the batista regime arsenio eribo and cue form the three sad tigers trio whose daily lives or nocturnal habits rather and existential angst represent the end of an era and the beginning of another one yet like lewis carroll and julio cortazar cabrera infante confounds the reader on purpose a myriad characters are introduced in the first few chapters some of which are taken out before the first third of the book whilst others remain in the periphery this is not a flaw guillermo creates a puzzle that the reader must solve and i for one could feel the authors long shadow casting its spell on me as i turned the pages of his novel whilst a naughty laugh betrayed his presence behind me cabrera infante is a magician whose sleights of hand magic characters out of thin space only to make them disappear with his other hand he is in control and he is having fun so much so that in between the mc announcing showtime at tropicana in chapter one and the epilogue with its intriguing soliloquy he has time to imagine how trotsky's death would be described by some of cubas foremost writers including jose marti jose lezama lima lydia cabrera and alejo carpentier and a chapter where the same story is narrated from two different points of view by husband and wife four times then there is also the page where cabrera infante tries mirror writing an exercise in literary excellency

language ttt is a celebration of language and above all cuban spanish i pity the translator that had or has to transpose the novel into another language because he or she had not only to contend with the idioms to which the denizens of my beloved island are so used but also with the cultural references which are harder to explain within the convoluted plot but it is not just cuban spanish that gets to play ball in this joyful novel we also have english and french taking on major roles especially in the chapter called rompecabezas jigsaw puzzle where one of those supporting characters bustrofedon takes his turn on the mic puns tropes similes and hyperboles are just some of the most entertaining games in which cabrera infantes characters delight

music ttt is above all a homage to cuban music and especially to the bolero the action takes place most of the time at night in the area comprising habana vieja old havana centro habana central havana and vedado nowadays plaza de la revolucion with its cabarets and night clubs that cabrera infante so well depicts this is a novel that dances around your hand or wriggles on it whether it be boleroing its way around the palm of your hand or guarachaing on the back of it cabrera infante famously said that this was a novel to read at night to which i humbly add this is a novel to talk you into parting with some of your money and finally buying a ticket to cuba specifically havana not that the person reading ttt for the first time will encounter the same scenario upon arriving in the cuban capital but some of the places mentioned in the novel still remain and a stroll up neptuno street towards havana university then right onto l street right again onto 23rd avenue and stopping at the tikoa club or la zorra y el cuervo the fox and the raven on the corner of 23rd and o street will definitely be worth it having grown up in havana listening to most of the music that cabrera infante mentions in this his most famous work i found myself very often here in cold london seized by the nostalgic effects of saudade longing for a bolero to come on the radio performed by either benny more or elena burke

ttt was and i believe it still is banned in cuba for reasons that were never clear to me when i was reading it one of the three main characters leans towards the barbudos political manifesto the bearded guerrillas led by fidel and the atmosphere in the novel has a certain air of decadence and corruption so characteristic of the batista era i think that the decision blind and crass in my opinion by the cuban government to not include this masterpiece in cubas literary canon responds to cabrera infantes attitude towards the regime circa 1961 after fidel famously addressed cuban intellectuals warning them that with the revolution everything against the revolution nothing this marked the end of the honeymoon period the cuban leader had enjoyed with cubas most prolific writers and artists ushering in the dark years of which the infamous umaps military units in support of production were the highlight

guillermo cabrera infante settled in london from 1965 until his death in the same city in 2005 in an interview given to the revista hispano cubana in 1998 he told the journalist juan carlos sanchez reyes that he hoped that the post castro cuba would become a better place with fewer economic restrictions and with greater opportunities

in the same way that ejercicio para un actor left me spellbound twenty years ago ttt has also repeated the experience twenty years later this book is a must read not just for those interested in cuban culture but also for those who love language in its most experimental form

note you might have become aware that punctuation marks capital letters and accents have been absent from my latest posts this is due to a wildcat strike sweeping through the uk now and which has affected the written press modern mobile phone text scribes have remained nonchalant towards the strike to the point of not noticing the changes the crisis was brought about by a fall in the punctuation marks accents and capital letters stockmarket in wall street and the city of london two of the worlds bigger financial centres for this type of commodity and caused also by a new arrival completely legal by the way of foreign accents if you are a resident in the uk you might have noticed the headlines the daily mail took the lead with first they took our jobs now they are taking our commas inside the tabloid richard littlejohn stated that we were all going to hell in a handcart unfortunately the controversial columnist fell off at the end of the sentence he was writing due to the absence of a full stop over at the sun the headline was gotcha above a photo of an alleged asylum seeker flogging question marks near liverpool street station in reality it turned out to be a picture of a younger David Milliband our foreign secretary during his time at corpus christi in oxford the red top apologised to the minister claiming that he looked like an eastern european in the photo and therefore they had decided to run the story the apology was printed on page 15 inside the paper using verdana size 2 font in italics underneath an ad for a ukrainian private escort the guardian and the independent asked british prime ministers barack hussein obama and jon stewart respectively to step in and solve the situation without either broadsheet realising their error the times and telegraph reproduced verbatim david camerons commons intervention on the issue without noticing that it was a copy of the same speech the tory leader had made to the conservative party in his partys autumn conference in 2006 in the meantime the daily star had a semiclad semicolon on its page three and over at the daily express the news was not reported because they could not find any link to princess diana this is the state of affairs here in the uk i hope the situation is resolved quickly so that i can go back to normal many thanks for being so patient

copyright 2009


  1. I will add this to my reading list... and will even try it in Spanish as it doesn't sound like a translation will work... will be contacting you to translate all that Cuban slang!! Thanks for such a comprehensive introduction...

  2. I came, I saw, I read.

    Well, I don't love you, but Cuba always has held an allure for me, and you gave me a vivid reminder of that.

    Your last few non-paragraphs had me laughing.

  3. Many thanks to you all for your kind comments.

    Greetings from London.

  4. I have never read this book and you've convinced me I must get it immediately! Interesting reading the piece without punctuation - we automatically pause at certain points, after years of reading and writing everything with punctuation. I have a couple of books about Cuba; one is a photography book which makes me long to get on a plane with a couple of cameras and a bag full of lenses and practice my (very basic) Spanish while soaking up the atmosphere. Maybe such a trip isn't that far off.

  5. Thanks, paris, for your kkind comment.

    Catherine, i forgot to add, that it would be a pleasure to help you out with the idioms.

    Greetings from London.

  6. You are a very convincing writer, and provoke a lot of serious fun. It's great when art and life are part of the same process.
    You do keep breaking away from expectations, from the traditional. You make it your own!
    Many thanks!!!

  7. Fabulous post, dear. It's absolutely a work of art in process, oh yeah

    Do you like the work of Argentinian writer Julio Cortazar, who lived much of his life in Paris and wrote such incredible books. Hopscotch is a book that can be read two ways, in a linear way through the chapters, or there is a variant progression you can follow. I've read the book both ways and it does tell a much different story.

    His short stories, too, are amazing. I've only read them in English, can only imagine how beautiful they are in Spanish.

    Thanks for this work of art, for giving us permission to experiment, because we are all artists, every one of us. Thank you.

  8. Quiero leer ttt, donde lo consigo amigo? Gracias por tus palabras en mi blog. Esta era la letra de la cancion de la que hablabas?

    Silvio Rodriguez

    Fábula de los Tres Hermanos Letras:

    De tres hermanos el más grande se fue Por
    la vereda a descubrir y a fundar Y para nunca
    equivocarse o errar Iba despierto y bien atento a
    cuanto iba a pisar

    De tanto en esta posición caminar Ya nunca
    el cuello se le enderezó Y anduvo esclavo
    ya de la precaución Y se hizo viejo,
    queriendo ir lejos, con su corta visión

    Ojo que no mira más allá no ayuda
    el pie Óyeme esto y dime, dime lo que
    piensas tú

    De tres hermanos el de en medio se fue Por la
    vereda a descubrir y a fundar Y para nunca
    equivocarse o errar Iba despierto y bien atento al
    horizonte igual

    Pero este chico listo no podía ver La
    piedra, el hoyo que vencía a su pie Y
    revolcado siempre se la pasó Y se hizo
    viejo, queriendo ir lejos, a donde no llegó

    Ojo que no mira más acá tampoco fue
    Óyeme esto y dime, dime lo que piensas

    De tres hermanos el pequeño partió
    Por la vereda a descubrir y a fundar Y para nunca
    equivocarse o errar Una pupila llevaba arriba y la
    otra en el andar

    Y caminó, vereda adentro, el que
    más Ojo en camino y ojo en lo por venir Y
    cuando vino el tiempo de resumir Ya su mirada
    estaba extraviada entre el estar y el ir

    Ojo puesto en todo ya ni sabe lo que ve
    Óyeme esto y dime, dime lo que piensas

  9. Thank yo uvery much for you kind comments.

    Reya, I read Cortazar many, many years ago and I found his writing absolutely mind-blowing.

    Yoli, yes, that's the song. TTT can be found here:

    Greetings from London.

  10. ¡Cuban, este post estuvo magnifico! Yo comencé a leer los 3TT en francés mientras hacía una investigación para el musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. ¡Aquello me resultaba imposible! Sentía que estaba disfrutando la obra parcialmente. Creo que en general así resulta para los amantes del español, pero oye, cuando uno tiene que leer a estos monstruos en otra lengua... ¡Bueno, en mi caso preferí no terminar de leerla así!

    En cuanto a lo que cuentas de la obra de teatro, ¡tremenda experiencia estética! Muy vívidos tus recuerdos. Gracias por compartir.


  11. Tasse Tarentelle Tectonique Terminale Tilleul Toréer Tourmenter Transgresseur Traquée Trébuchante...

    Merci pour cet article Mr Cuban... Je vous avouerais que je me suis fait aider quelque peu par le traducteur... Vous écrivez très bien mon ami,
    See you soon,
    Greetings from the Bask Country (!!!),

  12. Merci bien, isabella et miren pour votre commentaires.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  13. art is above all a process - I couldn't agree with you more! Wandered over from Shaista's blog - glad I found you!

  14. Hello, jeannette, many thanks for your comment. I will pop by shaista to see how she is doing. The last I heard she was back in hospital.

    Greetings from London.

  15. It grabs ya and takes ya along inspite of yersel'. (Only kiddin - enjoyed it!)

  16. I agree so much with your sentiments, that art is a process. I relate to this line especially: “one of the unsaid demands that we readers make of writers is that they do not jettison their innate insanity.” That part of the process is something I usually only talk about with other writers. It can sound crazy, and it is. Characters can keep me up at night with their babble.

    Three Sad Tigers sounds fascinating. How unfortunate that it was banned in Cuba. It’s a shame that it would be hard to translate. I can see why! Thanks for being our guide into another world of literature.

    I think you would make an excellent translator. You appreciate the subtle nuances of language and express yourself so well (even without punctuation – very, very funny!) “A semiclad semicolon on page 3”– literary porn! Great post! I’m looking forward to more . . . with punctuation.

  17. Me convenciste too, Cuban. Tengo que leer ese libro.
    Ah, qué lindos los signos de puntuación!! :-)
    Geetings from Berlin,

  18. thanks so much for your visit, now i can visit you too, isn#t it a gorgeous day in london today?

  19. Many thanks to you all for your lovely comments.

    Greetings from London.

  20. I think I've just fallen into some alphabet soup....

  21. ... then, here's your spoon, my dear. Tuck in! Thanks for your visit.

    Greetings from London.

  22. un gran libro sin duda y un excelente post, saludos y gracias por visitarnos

  23. Fantastic posting. Really beatiful!!!
    Happy Day!!!

  24. I hope things resolve too! Thank you for your nice comments on my blog!

  25. Many thanks for your comments, and yes, cubainglesa, I will be blog-rolling you, too.

    Greetings from London.

  26. Cuban,
    Te puedo decir que este libro ha sido uno de mis favoritos de toda la vida, también que la traductora al inglés SJL es una profesora (y amiga) mía (he leído trozos de la traducción y hemos hablado extensivamente sobre las dificultades de traducir no sólo los múltiples registro discursivos de GCI, sino también cómo poder lograr un contenido social en un universo paralelo...

    Yo creo que GCI , a lo largo de su carerra, estaba buscando ese centro vacío, en toda obra en todo momento. Me gusta tu forma de plasmar tu propia lectura a la página (virtual) y me recuerdas por qué
    amo la literatura.

    Gracias por tus palabras, un saludo desde California.

  27. ah, se me olvidaba añadir una conjetura.
    Las razones por bloquear la publicación del libro pueden tener mucho que ver con un incidente con el filme "pm" de Saba, su hermano. Tal vez sabrás más que yo respecto a ese asunto.

  28. Ilana, muchisimas gracias por tu comentario. Cierto es que Cabrera Infante logro de un modo magistral llenar ese hueco al que muchos escritores le tiene miedo y el cual yo pienso que es necesario enfrentar. También conocia lo de "PM", cinta que aun no he visto, pero nunca pensé que lo fueran a prohibir por eso. Pero tu sabes como es Quien-Tu-Sabes.

    Saludos desde Londres.

  29. Thank you for your kind note! I will have to take a look around. Your tribute to your daughter was so beautiful and I thoroughly enjoyed your audio clip, "Chucho and Bebo Valdez, Father and Son."

    Greetings from New York:)

  30. Hello, every photo, many thanks for your kind comment

    Greetings from London.

  31. I have no words, brother. You said them all.


    (Not least because I've been exposed to Cabrera Infante, Cortazar, and the maestro Carpentier during my travels and studies).

  32. Many thanks, flybrother.

    Greetings from London.

  33. lol. que bueno esta esto.



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