Senel Paz: Between Books and Films

If you are looking for a pretentious writer, this will not be Senel Paz.“My short stories are not many,” he says almost as an apology to his many readers who would want him to write more.

Alberto Dolz
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2009-02-15

If you are looking for a pretentious writer, this will not be Senel Paz.

“My short stories are not many,” he says almost as an apology to his many readers who would want him to write more.

He certainly is not a prolific writer. In 1980 he published his first book: El niño aquel (That Boy), a nostalgic group of short stories. Later a couple of short story collections: Los becados se divierten (Scholarship Students Have Fun), in 1989, and Las hermanas (The Sisters), in 1993. Then fame visited him with El lobo, el bosque y el hombre nuevo (The Wolf, the Forest and the New Men), first in the stage and then in a film flirting with the Oscar under the title of Strawberry and Chocolate.

Now he is trying to finish a new short story book. “It is a sort of short trip through my short stories,” he explains. “It is not an anthology, since I will include old and new texts,” he clarifies.

It is difficult to make him talk. It always seems that this will be all for the moment: the self-restraint inherent to his provincial origin or the vocation of a shy man endanger any interview with this successful writer born in 1950 in Fomento, a town cut by rivers in the center of the main island.

At long last, his kindness ends up by making him talk with loquacity enough for a couple of pages. He still breathes, intoxicated, the success of his last novel En el cielo con diamantes (In the Sky with Diamonds), a title taken from the Beatles’s psychedelia. The book is a tribute to the British quartet whose music marked Paz’s generation in a conflictive, besieged Cuba wary of the Western culture of the ‘60s and early ‘70s.

“The Cuban edition has circulated much and has been welcomed by many, although people almost always speak well about the books to their authors. Undoubtedly there was some interest, because I had not published for a long time,” he says in his moderate tone.

There is no reason to complain. En el cielo… had a good start. Last April it won in Portugal the Latin American House Literary Creation Award, awarded with ten thousand euros. The jury, after rejecting more than twenty books of nine Latin American countries, saw several virtues in it: “The quality of the narration and the critical, loving and tenderly parodic way in which the book offers a complex and moving view of a fundamental generation in the Cuban revolution.”

The story alternates chapters bearing the title of the two main characters: David and Arnaldo, the former a character in Strawberry and Chocolate. They both intertwine two existential paradigms: the idealist intellectual and the fun-loving pragmatist, a dichotomy that starts in Hispanic literature with Cervantes’s Quixote, to whom the author also renders tribute in his story.

“The French edition is just out. The Brazilian will soon be ready and there is already one in Italian, the first to come out. I hope the German edition will be ready early this year, and perhaps the Korean and Serbian ones too,” the writer says on the editorial geography of his work.

The author of Un rey en el jardín (A King in the Garden), his first novel, is getting ready for his role as a cicerone. He will receive his Chilean colleagues who will visit Havana in February to attend the 18th International Book Fair, this time with the longest country in the world as invited nation.

Paz had already traveled to cold Santiago last August for their book fair. “It was short, but I found enormous warmth,” he summarizes and then reviews the way stereotypes entirely shattered. “I went there with some prejudice. I had been told that Santiago was not such a nice place, that Chileans were very set in their ways, but my experience was entirely different.”

He says that there is much enthusiasm in Chile to travel to Cuba, “not only the writers, but the authorities as well. They will prepare a very serious approach to Chilean literature which will intensify our relationship in a big way,” he predicted. Senel Paz, the author of box-office hits like Una novia para David (A Girlfriend for David) and Adorables mentiras (Adorable Lies) and of three fiction short films, has collaborated in the plots of Lista de espera (Waiting list), Un paraíso bajo las estrellas (A Paradise under the Stars) Malena es un nombre de tango (Malena Is a Tango Name), Cosas que dejé en La Habana ( Things I Left in Havana) and Una rosa de Francia (A French Rose).

Senel Paz also teaches scriptwriting and acts as a consultant in Cuba and abroad. For three years he taught scriptwriting in the International Film and TV School of San Antonio de los Banos, founded by the literature Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marques in the outskirts of Havana.

“I only want to write something for the movies, but right now I have nothing. Scripts demand a specific project. With a book you can dream, but in a film you invest time and much effort if it is really going to be made.”

Senel Paz’s last project was the script based on Peruvian writer Alfredo Bryce Echenique’s Un mundo para Julius (A World for Julius), but it just did not happen. It did not go beyond the script stage.

*The author is a Cuban journalist and a collaborator of Cubanow.

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