Archival dissonance in the Cuban post-exile historical novel

Date

2009-12

Authors

Helmick, Gregory Gierhart

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Abstract

This dissertation investigates a common methodology of staging Cuban and Cuban exile historiography in three novels by Roberto G. Fernández (b. 1950), Antonio Benítez Rojo (1931-2005), and Ana Menéndez (b. 1970). This methodology develops a counterpoint between, first, the diagetic (strictly fictional) stories of characters who attempt to research or write Cuban history from exile and, second, the extradiagetic (extra or non-fictional) use of actual sources and tendencies of Cuban, Caribbean, and U.S. historiography structuring the narrative fiction. Reinforcing the density of the discursive field, the authors additionally incorporate works of Spanish, Latin-American, Caribbean, and/or Cuban literatures as constitutive elements of their fictions’ extradiagetic “noise.” I make the case that Fernández’s, Benítez Rojo’s, and Menéndez’s U.S.-produced historical novels develop a critical and investigative approach to the politics of Cuban exile and diaspora historiography. As such, they participate in the emergence of a post-exile Cuban literature, in dialogue with broader Caribbean and Latin American literatures. I analyze what I call archival dissonance in (1) the first, paradigm-setting novel in the body of historical fiction narrated from the frame of a dystopian future by Roberto G. Fernández, La vida es un special; (2) in Ana Menéndez’s use of reader response and archival research methods to critically recast a history of family division under the Cuban Revolution as popular romance fiction in Loving Che and (3) in the only novel Antonio Benítez Rojo lived to write in the United States, Mujer en traje de batalla (about the accidental arrival to New York City of the “first female Cuban physician” Enriqueta Faber, 1791-1827). Departing from the methodology presented with the narrative structure of each of the novels, in which a diagetic process of a character’s reading and/or writing Cuban history from a site of exile is countered by extradiagetic documentary and metaliterary information, I examine each novel’s metacritical approach to the politics of exile and diaspora historiography, as well as toward Cuban, Caribbean, Latin American, and/or U.S. literary textual economies.

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