Thursday, March 19, 2009

Achy Obejas' Ruins

Achy Obejas' Ruins is a novel about one Cuban man's struggle with revolutionary purity during the Special Period. I really enjoyed it and am going to assign it to my Latin American Politics class in the fall. It centers on Usnavy (his mother was watching U.S. naval vessels) and his desire to remain committed to the revolution even as everyone around him is deserting it, either by grubbing for dollars or setting off on rafts.

I could not help but feel sympathy Usnavy, and Obejas does a nice job showing his internal debate. That debate revolves around a lamp he has, as well as a lamp he finds. Are they Tiffany? That allows Obejas to examine the market for scarce dollars (and how the hunt for dollars affects people), perceptions of what "quality" means (e.g. why would a Cuban-made lamp be considered worthless if it is equally beautiful) as well as the contrast between the beauty of the lamp and the squalor of Usnavy's tenement.

Finally, the end of the novel encapsulates all the conflicting feelings Usnavy has--the positives and the negatives about the revolution, his interest in dollars, even his perceptions of foreign tourists.


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