- Disconnect/Desencuentro by Nancy Alonso
Disconnect/Desencuentro is a bilingual collection of twelve short narratives well suited for the undergraduate Spanish program. This anthology presents a variety of contemporary topics specific to the Cuban national milieu including: experiencing other cultures, themes of death and dying, human despair, and the emotional toll of losing family through migration.
The anthology can also serve as an introduction to the theme of female homoerotic relationship from a Cuban perspective, for there are six lesbian stories, and the last story about male homoerotic desire bears the same name as the title of the collection. Lesbianism operates at two literary levels in this collection. It is suggested emotionally, a spontaneous connection to an interesting other, or it is revealed by a circumstance of trial and difficulty, as those in the relationship struggle to ensure its survival. The literary intention here is non-confrontational; indeed there is no posture of defiance in relation to society as a whole. Neither does there seem to be a desire to express affront or condemnation of the discrimination that individuals might suffer because of their sexual orientation. Vindication and self-affirmation are also not the principal intention. The objective is the establishment of a sense of authenticity or to provide an intimate gaze at thoughts and emotions in relationships destined to suffer the same tensions and challenges faced by any other couple.
Ample use is made of the urban landscape of Cuba’s capital city, Havana. The stories zero in on the lives of everyday people, even as they stylistically incline towards tones of tragedy and suffering. The notion of “happy ending” is debunked by way of situations that are the cultural and interpersonal challenges of everyday living even as each story, in its own way, is unique and revelatory. Alonso’s art is simple, easy to access culturally even as it is emotionally very heavy and designed to leave a lasting impression. Her writing style is designed to produce certain effects: dissatisfaction, incompletion, endurance, and survival against the odds.
One particular theme that weaves through several stories is the way in which the Cuban subject experiences and processes other cultures. Two main cultural phenomena that inspire the stories are government arranged mission trips abroad and the trauma associated with permanent migration. “Address Unknown/Domicilio desconocido” and “May Allah Protect You/Que Alá te proteja” focus on Ethiopia and are reflections about Africa, displaying a fascination with that continent’s difference as well as coping with profound nostalgia for the homeland. “Dialogue/ Diálogo” speaks of Brazil, and “Traces/Huellas” focuses on the trauma facing older family members because of long term separation from their loved ones who have chosen to depart. Overall, the inclusion of these particular themes proves strategic, moving against the notion of the island’s political isolation because of the embargo by confirming the construction of other types of alliances and travel experiences.
Disconnect/Desencuentro is a representation of Cuba’s postmodern experiences, an intimately more personal approach that prioritizes the individual’s perspective and emotional response to adversity.