Thursday, 19 February 2009

LIT (Fiction): Eduardo Serafini-Ortiz - 'The Experience of Sinking'

Out of print for almost three decades, this novella by the neglected Cuban Magic Realist undergoes a worthy resurrection in a new translation by Philip Angier. This edition comes as a tie-in with the forthcoming movie adaptation from Snow Leper Studios, directed by Essy Andrien.

The story centres on the Salazars, a couple that inherit the deeds to an apartment complex on the coast from a distant and mysterious relative. Upon arrival they realize that their new piece of real estate is rapidly and inexorably sinking below sea level. Juggling sand-bags and the shreds of their failing marriage they attempt to prevent the complex's further submersion, to the anger and dismay of sinister caretaker Alfredo who has plans of his own for the place, and as the story progresses the couple gradually uncover the hidden truths of Lazuli Villas and its former owner.

Initially banned by Castro's censors due to a marked similarity between the dictator and the prodigiously bearded, cigar-puffing Alfredo, Serafini-Ortiz frequently stated that the work did in fact have no political subtext, a claim he continued to uphold even after his emigration to the United States although this plea was later altered after noting an increased interest in the novella within the literary world due to the popularity of such interpretations. In Iain Cozife's 'Conversations With Eduardo Serafini-Ortiz' the author is quoted as saying the following: "Alfredo Da Bift is not Fidel Castro and he is Fidel Castro, in the same way that he is not you or I but simultaneously is and is also your neighbour that makes such fine cinnamon cakes but has quite a temper really".

Although its cinematic incarnation has met mixed reviews after preview screenings in which critics decried the subversion of the text toward an allegory of climate change ("cack handed and soul-savagingly trite" according to one source) it may be hoped that a Serafini-Ortiz revival is on its way, and not before time. Perhaps the most important of his works, 'The Experience of Sinking' is a triumph in which love, loss, and land reclamation collide to produce instances of astonishing melancholy beauty and poignancy.

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