In Cuban-American author Mestre-Reed sacrifice (Soho, Sept.), a young man fell into a group of homosexual counter-revolutionaries in late 1990s Havana.
Nicolás and Renato are part of a group of HIV-positive people, some of whom choose to become infected. It was a real event in Cuba, wasn’t it?
There was a huge article in the early 90s written in the New York Times Review on this subject. A lot of people who said they had injected had actually acquired it through sexual interactions and relationships with other people, but it was definitely happening at a time when it was kind of a social protest, in particularly during the special period when the lack of Soviet subsidies completely collapsed the economy.
What attracted you to this small movement and in this specific period?
I was drawn to the movement to some degree because I wanted to write about queer longing, and I wanted to write this latest novel about Cuba – now I’m moving to my new country. But it was about the idea of queer desire and how it relates to this ideal of freedom that is never quite achieved. I played with that for a long time in the creation of the novel. In a way, it’s a novel about broken ideals, both in a social sense, with the revolution, but also in a personal sense, with the characters.
The novel is filled with characters who are very much on the fringes of mainstream, underground society, politically and in terms of sexuality – Renato in particular, who was a golden boy in the communist youth movement at school, until turn around and reject it. What drew you to these people who live on the fringes of the mainstream?
There was a Cuban artist who had a show at the Brooklyn Museum, and a lot of the work was about the types of huts that people build on rooftops. And I went, “Wow!” I started researching it. It’s a fascinating way of living on the margins of society. And so it all started from there – what kind of people would live in that kind of society, and how would those who work in the system be attracted to something like that?
What is the next step after Cuba?
Well, I’m not done with Cubans, but I’m done with Cuba. Cubans are notoriously conservative because they’re very anti-Communist, so I’m now working on this novel where there’s this very successful Cuban woman who gets involved in the Capitol insurrection. It’s almost about this crazy search for freedom that always goes wrong somehow with Cubans – and that’s the story of the country.
A version of this article originally appeared in the 7/4/2022 issue of Weekly editors under the title: Outside society