Island of Letters: Jorge Enrique Lage

Although critics place him in the generation of narrators emerging in the dawn of the new century, Cuban writer Jorge Enrique Lage is a sort of steppenwolf who has nothing to do with generations and trends.

Rafael Grillo
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2012-08-07

Chronologically, critics usually place Jorge Enrique Lage (Havana, 1979) in the generation of narrators who started their oeuvre in the early years of the new century. They also charge him with stylistic similarities to this group. In the interviews he’s granted, however, Lage always says he does not consider himself part of any generation or trend.

Lage’s curriculum, graduating in biochemistry before becoming a narrator, is extensive despite his youth. He has already published five books of short stories: Yo fui un adolescente ladrón de tumbas (Editorial Extramuros, Havana, 2004), Fragmentos encontrados en La Rampa (Casa Editora Abril, Havana, 2004), Los ojos de fuego verde (Casa Editora Abril, Havana, 2005), El color de la sangre diluida (Editorial Letras Cubanas, 2007), Vultureffects (Ediciones Union, Havana, 2011) and the novel Carbono 14. Una novela de culto, published in 2010 by Ediciones Altazor, Peru.

He’s also won various awards, among them the Celestino de Cuento Award (2002), the Luis Rogelio Nogueras Award (2003) and twice the Calendario Award, in Narrative (2003) and Science Fiction (2004).

His work at the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Creative Writing Center, where he heads the editorial staff of El Cuentero magazine and is the editor of Caja China Editorial, adds to his recognition on the Cuban literary scene.

Seeing Lage as a sort of lone fish, swimming outside the shoal in the literary waters of the Island, is justified by the uniqueness of his writing. He has nothing in common with the realism used by most of the authors of his times and can’t be pigeonholed into any genre, despite the science fiction, absurd, fantasy, horror and crime elements populating his pages.

His is an eccentric mixture of genres which he is able to conceive through a process he has thus described:

“For some time now I have been thinking in stories as if they were installations: you add an element, then another, tie here, copy and paste there, testing and inserting materials… then wait for some circuit to close and a current of meaning to emerge. I would call it a montage process.”

An example of this is this fragment of a story from the volume El color de la sangre diluida - The Color of Diluted Blood - which we now offer:

LOST IN TRANSLATION

I have been cordially invited to investigate the death of Linus Garcia. I have accepted, of course. The Yakuza do not want to admit it was suicide. Better that way.

Mathew’s Best Hit TV was playing on the television.

Matthew Minami was talking with Bill Murray. Matthew Minami spoke Japanese and Bill Murray spoke English. They seemed to understand each other. I’m sure that at least Bill understood. Bill has always understood everything. TV Asahi, the main TV chain in Japan, subtitled his words with those hypnotic characters. Or maybe it was the TV set itself, I don’t know.

Bill said:

“I don’t want to talk about Japanese whores any more. You scold them and they pull a face. You hit them and they bite. You kill them and they become ghosts.”

Then came a knock on the door of my room.

She wore a combination of silk and pearls.

“Massage,” she said.

“Thanks, but no,” I said.

“It is a present. Gratitude.”

She had learned more than one word. I didn’t finish closing the door in her face.

“Who from?”

“The producers. Hotel security. Them.”

“Whoever they are, I don’t know what they’re grateful for. I haven’t done anything.”

Without much enthusiasm, she handed me a card with a message written in Japanese. On the other side there was a word: wikisubtitles. I should have imagined what would come next.

The whore got into my bed and downloaded the subtitles.

Come in. We were waiting for you.

I entered the suite and found myself in front of a group of Japanese dressed in tuxedos, some sitting and smoking or drinking. Others, younger, standing. They studied me in silence.

Suddenly the letters appeared:

The director has been murdered.

I thought I hadn’t read it right.

“Murdered? How?”

We’re waiting for you to find out.

We want you to find the murderer.

“Why don’t you call the police?”

No, no police.

What makes you think I can? I’m an extra.

We know. You and the two Germans were the Western extras.

“Why me?”

They looked at me fiercely.

Because you will understand better. Besides, you’re Mexican.

“I’m not Mexican.”

Sort of. You come from the same area.

A few miles make no difference here.

What happens if I don’t accept?

You have already accepted.

Technically, Linus Garcia was not a Mexican, but his father, whom he had never met, was. His father, Ulises Linus, got lost in the Sonora desert and nothing was known about him for a long time, until he turned up in southern California in rags and a bullet wound. That was what his mother, a second-rate scriptwriter in Los Angeles who talked in terms of culture shock and fleeting encounters, had told Linus Garcia and what Linus García had told the press and magazines years later, giving the definitive touch to the legend of his precocious and terrible filmmaker aura. What did he think of his father? Was he dead? Was he lost again? Did he have other children lost in the vast American depths? Linus shrugged these questions off. He didn’t think or believe anything. He didn’t care shit for all this.

Translated by Gertrudis Ortega

Revised by CF Ray

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