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If a trip to Cuba is in your future, providing you attain the required permission and/or you depart from some place other than the United States, you might want to spend some pre-travel time reading Cedric Brown’s Eyes of Water & Stone (Blurb). Mr. Brown engages us in an exploration of Cuba that at times is academic, providing a multi-disciplinary background of political history, sociology and economics. And while we are reminded of Fidel Castro and the call for a revolution, communism and the Cold War, we are simultaneously being enticed by the culture and the language of Havana. Eyes of Water & Stone is the story of a love affair between an American and Cuban that is plagued by a history of denial; a forbidden romance set on a prohibited island. Similar to United States and Cuba relations, the affair is complicated by ideals of freedom and economics.
We enter the story strolling down the Malecón, Havana’s famed concourse, cooled by the ocean breeze beneath the tropical sun basking in the energy of Latin culture. The narrator, who is African-American, has returned to Cuba after having visited six months earlier, to reunite with Felix. A charismatic yet often brooding young Cuban with an insatiable appetite, Felix captured the heart of the narrator during his previous three-day visit. The initial affair is ignited by stolen kisses and fueled by desires of possibilities. The long distance courtship and subsequent reconnection is sustained by the same illusions. The romantic jaunt along the Malecón is halted when they are aggressively stopped and questioned by the police. The idyllic moment quickly dissipates into the harsh reality of Cuba. The narrator reminds himself, “Welcome to Cuba. Despite the free-flowing rum, rhumba, and rumpsides, despite the ever-present faces of pop idol revolutionaries. Cuba is a police-state. Nice reminder, just in case I forget.”
Following the reconnection and the police incident, the author flashes back and allows the narrator to recount the six months leading up to his return. Details of their first date and the intense days following are revealed, during which time the characters involvement is non-sexual. Felix does rely on the financial support of the narrator, of which the narrator freely obliges, choosing to ignore the possibility that he is being manipulated.
Throughout the telling of the couple’s relationship, the author examines the intersection of race and privilege and American citizenship. It’s a poignant observation when viewed from the lens of an African-American in a foreign country; being black in America and the paradox of being a privileged American abroad. Of course, race still often influences the initial response, as highlighted when the narrator points to the treatment he received in comparison to his white travel companion whom he accompanied during that first trip to Havana:
This brown-skinned spectrum allowed me to move around somewhat inconspicuously, a comfort my blonde, blue-eyed friend Jake did not have. On the flip side, during the trip he was afforded certain gestures not extended to me…
Even still, in the narrator’s relationship with Felix, it was about the idea of privilege associated with his being an American citizen.
In the months following the first departure, the couple corresponds through email and letters. Interestingly, the author leaves all of the correspondence to Felix. His romantic writings are both an enticing lure and a desperate plea. The reader is left to contemplate along with the narrator Felix’s true intentions. It plays out as a romance with provisions, contingent upon whether or not the desires of the other is fulfilled, albeit one might infer that the narrator’s desire is to fulfill Felix’s desires. It is possible that reader might be conflicted as to whether or not it is effective to use only the voice of Felix in the letter correspondence, and question the need to read the narrator’s response in letter form. In the end the achievement is in the angst created by Felix’s letters and his incessant requests that lead to the inevitable outcome. Ultimately it is a revelation of how desperation feeds desire, be it the desire to be free or the desire to be loved.
Eyes of Water & Stone
By Cedric Brown
Paperback, 9780615636108, 130 pp.