This episode began with a chance meeting in a tiny art gallery in the city of Cienfuegos, Cuba. Writer Isora Morales Suarez was minding the store to pay the bills, but she told us that one of her novels for kids had just been published in English by a nonprofit called Cubano Books. Some of our favorite readers from the Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore discuss Isora’s unusual fairy tale “The Meringue Witches” with host Kitty Felde. Cuban ex-pat Adolfo Nodal is celebrity reader.
Favorite Books from the Girlfriends Book Club Baltimore:
Where the Red Fern Grows - Wilson Rawls
Marley and Me: Life and love with the World’s Worst Dog - John Grogan
Nightmares - Jason Segel
El Deafo - Cece Bell
One of Us is Lying - Karen McManus
Translation of this interview with Isora Morales Suarez:
And why this book?
Well then, why did I write this book? This book is an important part of my life. Because I live in a place called Ciudad Nuclear (Nuclear City). It’s a special place in Cuba, because it’s a place where they were going to build the first nuclear plant, but, the maps changed color in Europe, socialism fell, and it wasn’t built. The project was paralyzed, and many people were suddenly without jobs, suddenly without—these were people who had studied at university to do these jobs—their dreams were broken. And then, since their dreams were broken, the city languished.
So, I use this city as the setting for my book. In my book, Ciudad Nuclear is called Ciudad Nublada (Cloudy City). And then I made an entire fantasy story, a story of witches, dragons, magicians, princesses—so that people would cheer up! Because people get very sad because they don’t have money, because everything is very difficult. But I believe that humans can’t lose the capacity to dream. Dreams keep us alive in the most difficult moments.
So, I still live in this place—I haven’t been able to leave—and since I’ve always had a difficult relationship with this place, because life is very hard here, I decided to write about it, because it was tormenting me, and I didn’t want it to torment me any more. I wanted to make a story for kids, for young people, but also for adults, and I wanted to tell them: we have to dream, because if we don’t dream, we’re lost. If we don’t dream and we don’t act in solidarity, if we don’t help each other when we’re—when we’re scared—ay, sorry—because sometimes we’re scared. We’re anxious, and we’re scared that everything will go wrong in life—excuse me. So I wanted to write this book so that people would have faith that the world can be better—people help each other, support each other, love each other—so that people trust that the world can be a place of love and not of war. Always a place of love, never a place of war.
This book isn’t the only one you’ve written?
Yes, it’s my first book. I didn’t—I didn’t start—I wrote my first book when I was almost fifty years old. Because before my life was very stressful. I have a son, Eric, my son Eric who is my greatest treasure. So then, my son studied in Cuba to become a dancer. My son—he is a dancer now. So then, I had to struggle a lot, to work a lot at different jobs, and I couldn’t concentrate, because I had to work, I had to arrange things—I raised my son alone—his father and I divorced, and his father went to another city to live and had another family. So then, I had to arrange everything for my son. His clothing, his shoes, his food, his—everything. And so, I couldn’t concentrate because I had to take care of these things.
My son graduated, started working, and things started to go well for him. Then I took a deep breath, and said—“Ay, what am I going to do now?” Because all of the sudden—it had been lots, a lot a lot of struggle with everything, with the food, with money, with everything—and suddenly I was like—and now, what do I do? And then I said, “Well, I always wanted to be a writer.” My mother, who is a lovely woman, always told me, from the time I was a little girl, that I was going to be a writer. Because when I was a child I was different from my sisters. My sisters didn’t read, and I read and read and read, I was always reading from the time I was little. And so my mom would say that I—her daughter—was going to be a writer. And I would say, “Why do you say that?” And she would tell me that it was because I really liked books. And I would respond, “But writing is very hard—it must be very hard.” And then my mom would reply, “But you’re going to write.” And she said it as if it was a fact. Her fact: she knew it was going to happen. Because mothers are never wrong.
And so, I said, “Well, my mom says I’m going to be a writer—that is, my mother was my greatest inspiration. And so, I started to write. And I said, “Well, I have to write a fantasy.” Because reality is a little hard. So I wanted to create a book of fantasy, of magic, and I want that magic to be good for people. And that’s why I wrote this book.