Local author Rosa Jordan is having a book release at Cafe Books West tomorrow for her new novel The Women She Was. The Rossland News had a chance to talk to Jordan about her inspirations and the difficulties of writing abotu contemporary Cuba.
ROSSLAND NEWS: Tell us about your new novel. How did you come to choose Cuba?
ROSA JORDAN: Fifteen years ago I made a brief visit to Cuba and decided that I’d like to explore the culture more in depth, and that the best way to do that would be on a bike.
That’s the Rossland influence, by the way. With practically everybody in town biking, I didn’t see a problem with me biking, even though my ambition was to bike the entire Cuba coastline -a distance of about 4,500 km.
I soon realized that this would be a lot easier if there was a cycling guide to Cuba, which there wasn’t at that time, so my partner, Derek Choukalos and I, wrote one. Later -just last year, in fact -we collaborated on a guide called Cuba’s Best Beaches.
I continued traveling to Cuba once or twice a year, and became fascinated with a woman named Celia Sanchez. Historians, if they mention her at all, only refer to her as Fidel Castro’s “assistant” for lover during the Revolution.
In fact, it was pretty much the other way around. He handled military actions. She was responsible for everything else – strategy, organization, logistics, recruitment, community relations, everything. Just about anybody involved in the Revolution -and quite a few of these people are still alive– will tell you that it could not have succeeded without her. Yet history had passed her by. I couldn’t write the history of Celia Sanchez that deserves to be written. But I could write a novel about a modern Cuban doctor who is deeply influenced by her in some strange and even bizarre ways.
The protagonist is trying to untangle the threads of her life, and also trying to figure out who Celia Sanchez really was. And you might say, who, or what, her country is – how much is it like what she has been told and how much has it not lived up to its revolutionary ideals?
RN: Is the novel based on your experiences there in any way? How did your time there help in writing the novel?
JORDAN: The main character, who lives in Havana, travels extensively from one end of the island to another, from famous beach resorts to the most rugged part of the Sierra Maestra. I have done this too, multiple times, staying with Cuban families in all kinds of settings. Those two things – my travels on and off the beaten path and my familiarity with how the average Cuban lives – made it easy to incorporate those elements into the story.
RN: What is your process for writing? Is it quite a bit different for writing fiction as compared to your non-fiction books? What’s the biggest challenge?
JORDAN: I love words and hear dialog in my head, but I see what I write in images, like a movie. When I’m writing non-fiction, I visualize places I’ve been and people I’ve actually met. Where there’s dialog, I hear their voices, not my own. When I’m writing fiction, I still visualize scenes and describe what I see in my mind’s eye, but the characters in these scenes come out of my imagination. The biggest challenge is translating dialog from Spanish into English without losing the unique voice of each character.
RN: Did you have any influences or inspirations for writing the book from other authors?
JORDAN: Probably more negative influences than positive ones. It annoys me that it’s so difficult to find a good novel about contemporary Cuba, the kind a person headed there for vacation might like to take along for both relaxation and to learn something about the culture.
Most Cuban novels published in North America are by usually-bitter Cuban ex-pats, many of whom left Cuba decades ago, know little about modern Cuba, and criticize it mainly for being poorer than we are.
As if a tiny island nation, that is being boycotted by the most powerful nation on earth and getting whacked by devastating hurricanes almost annually, can possibly be as well off as we are, no matter what its politics or economic system!
I was also annoyed that history has so completely overlooked Celia Sanchez, who was a truly remarkable woman, what today we’d call a “game changer.”
Thus I set out to write a novel that was the opposite. I wanted to present Cuba as it is today, from the perspective of island Cubans; telling a little of Celia Sanchez’ story but in a way that it would be an entertaining read for somebody on vacation in Cuba, or considering vacationing there, or who has just got back and has more questions than answers about the place.
RN: So this is your third book about Cuba. Will you be writing others?
JORDAN: A fourth one, non-fiction but not a travel guide, is scheduled for publication in September. After that, I don’t know. I keep thinking it’s time for my love affair with Cuba to end, but I still feel passionate about the people, the place, and its history, but who knows? Maybe some writers know what they will write next but I usually don’t.
RN: What made you decide to move to Rossland?
JORDAN: I moved here for the skiing and because Rossland is a real community rather than a resort dominated by transients.
My first season on Red was the winter of ’74-75. Only later did I learn what a great place this is to write. I had done some freelance articles before then and did some after, but didn’t get around to writing books until 1995.
The openness of local people, the beautiful natural setting, and the easy access to sports needed to balance out the time I spend in front of a computer -all that makes Rossland a fabulous place to write.