Last Tuesday I attended Pablo Medina’s first public reading of his new novel Cubop City Blues at Harvard Book Store, an independent bookseller in Cambridge, Massachusetts. As implied by the title, the prose of this book riffs and pops, saunters and surprises, and in the end, leaves one wanting more. I was mesmerized.
So where are the post-publication reviews for this book? Why hasn’t The New York Times or The Boston Globe picked it up? There are so many reasons one might imagine. One could point out that the Times pays more attention to new nonfiction than to literary fiction. Or, as is obvious to anyone who loves to read, since so many novels are published every week, it would be impossible to cover every book worthy of mention.
Regarding Cubop City Blues, I can’t answer the whys but I can share something I stumbled upon today that everyone who cares about books (and the people who write them) might want to think about. According to The Rumpus.net, an online magazine focused on culture, “Nearly 90% of the books reviewed by The New York Times are written by white writers. That is not even remotely reflective of the racial makeup of this country, where 72% of the population, according to the 2010 census, is white. We know that far more than 81 books were published by writers of color in 2011. You don’t really need other datasets to see this rather glaring imbalance.” (See: http://therumpus.net/2012/06/where-things-stand/)
On April 1 of this year, I wrote a post examining gender discrimination in publishing (see: Vida: Life for Women Writers). Once again, we have a long way to go and on many fronts.
That said, one customer gave Pablo Medina’s book a five-star review on Amazon.com. While I wait for The New York Times to wake up, I’d like to share what Miles D. Moore had to say:
“Pablo Medina’s Cubop City Blues is a series of blazing jazz solos by a virtuoso whose instrument happens to be the pen. Medina’s novel is actually a loosely connected series of short stories, in the style of Trainspotting, Three Junes, and Let the Great World Spin, and it deserves to be ranked with those excellent books.
The theme of Cubop City Blues is nothing less than the panorama of the Cuban immigrant experience in America, as filtered through the character of The Storyteller–a 25-year-old man, nearly blind, caring for his dysfunctional parents who are both dying of cancer. Informed by the books available to him–The Bible, The Arabian Nights, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica–The Storyteller entertains his parents and himself with tales of the adventures of various residents of Cubop City, both real and invented. These include Juan Antonio, a snobbish literature professor who finds himself falling in love with a younger male colleague he despises; Bennie Rojas, a Havana blackjack dealer who escapes to Las Vegas and loses a piece of his soul in the process; Johnny Luna, who is determined that his seventh attempt to escape Cuba for Miami will be the charm; Adalberto Fuentes, a cocky trumpet player blindsided by love; and especially Angel, a Cuban everyman whose trials include multiple lost loves and a stranger who stabs him nearly to death in the street, for no discernible reason (great shades of Samuel Beckett).
While these and other characters are memorable, it is Medina’s writing that is unforgettable. With language of breathtaking precision, Medina marinates you in the colors, scents and sounds of his Cubop City. The final paragraph of the chapter titled ‘Big Babel’ demonstrates this: ‘The morning was dim city light falling on the streets full of people: grand dames of Cubop City, politicians, drivers of armored trucks, cooks and waiters and tax collectors and yoga teachers and strip-teasers and Goth teenagers, and you, bilingual loafer among them. Who could imagine such fortune? Who wouldn’t give everything he owns to be in your sneakers, central and ubiquitous, omnivalent, fractal, momentary, copacetic?’”
Richard Hoffman also heard Pablo Medina read at Harvard Book Store. This is what he said on Facebook: “This is a must-read everyone. I am predicting big things for it, too. Pulitzer? NBCC? NBA? LA Times? Anyway, run out and get it; you won’t regret it.”