The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

The Fallen by Carlos Manuel Álvarez

Cuban fiction

Original  title – Los caídos

Translator – Frank Wynne

Source – review copy

I will for the next few days add a few books that might make the booker longlist later this week and here I start with a great debut novel from a Cuban writer that has written short stories and also contributed pieces to The BBBC, New York Times and Al-Jazeera. As well as co-founding an online magazine in Cuba. He was on that Bogota 39 list from a few years ago which has already produced so many great new voices from Latin and Central American. Here is one of my choice for the longlist as it has been wonderfully translated by Frank Wynne into English.

THE MOTHER

I’m alive and in my panties and my skin is yellow. I’, in a heap lying on top of the bed, the dirty sheets. By the time I finally get up, my arms are covered in goose bumps. I open the wardrobe, put on a housecoat and go into the kitchen. Afrmado is making coffee. His movements are slow and graceless, The way he holds the coffee pot, the way he turns on the gas, the way he strikes the match and holds on to the ring. He is so slow that his every action already contains within in its own repetition.

He looks at me and smiles and there is something in his smile that unsettles me. He ask me if I want coffee, I say yes, a little. I ask him how he slept and he says better than most nights. I asj him how he slept and he says better than most nights. I ask him if he had a dream and he say no. He says this as if I alreay know, but how could I know soemthing I have no reason to know ? I don’t ask any more questions

The line about his smile and what’s behind it hit me a lot.

This is a story of a family but what is great it takes the four members of the family the mother and father and there son and daughter. This is a family that is in the middle of a crisis is the mother who you feel is the glue of the family it turns out over the first few chapters she has started having a few health problems mainly a number of falls more than normal and increasing in frequency, This is described by her daughter as she just drops to the fall but after three occasions you sense her daughters worry. Her husband the father is worried stuck in an office job but not too high he also has a car he hates his Nissan is heavy on the fuel and he is always running out of fuel. This is a poor family as the son observes they hadn’t even a table at one point. There is an insight into the way people get money in Cuba a sort of reverse universal credit where the less your family had meant the more some got also maybe a tip of the hat to the corruption in the system. The father thou is also a man of honour as those other he knows to get on he sticks to the rules and isn’t one for bribes as the matriarch of the family is failing her daughter worries of life without her. The sin hates his father mainly for his standpoint in life to not take what he may see other take. A wonderful look into a family in the current Cuba where a family still struggles to have a table when poor and corruption just ripples under the surface.

THE DAUGHTER

The first time was five months ago, a muffled thud. The human body doesn’t sound like a vase shattering. It doesn’t sound like a crystal glass. It sounds like a sack of cement, like a thick, heavy dictionary. There was a spot of blood on a corner of the wardrobe. I noticed it straight away, Mama was lying on the floor, unconscious. There was a gash in her cheek like the hollow in an agave. I did everything you’re not supposed to do. I moved ger from where she was lying. I tried to put her in a different position. She was a dead wieght. She’s talll and heavy, and I couldn’t After three minutes, she started to stir and after a while she came round. We thought it was an isolated incident,but people think a lot of things.

HEr daughter describes those early falls she saw.

Fitzcarraldo has brought so many good books to us in recent years and this debut is another gem. It captures the family so well a family just getting by but now with his wife’s illness there is an impending doom in their also cracks of those things that within a family you sometimes bury until there is a shift in the power or a loss forthcoming that means cracks like those between the father and son appear. It is bare on names and details it is a description of a family coping with a vital member falling ill. the shifting voices remind me of the way the voices shift in Faulkners as I lay dying not as many voices but each voice add the narrative and the story. This technique of shifting the story around to see it from each family members point of view has also been seen a couple of times on soaps recently where we had a week of five perspectives of an event here it is the same four view of a woman failing and the feeling once that happens it will have a knock-on effect. An insight into family life for those scrapping by just in Modern Cuba. Have you read this book ?

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