Reports from Cuba: Havana Book Fair has few books, and you can only look, not touch or buy

Juan Diego Rodriguez writes in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

At the Havana Book Fair, There Are Few Books, and You Can Look but Not Touch or Buy

The Russian books at the fair were not for sale.

The Havana International Book Fair invited two countries this year: an official one, Brazil, and an “unofficial” one, Russia, whose booth, although small, is located at the same entrance of La Cabaña. This Sunday, however, neither of the two managed to satisfy the readers, who ended the day annoyed not only because of the bad weather, but because the few books they found – in Portuguese and Russian – were “only for display.”

Among the visitors, who were taking refuge from the downpour in the entrance, the irritation was evident: “They should have announced that this was going to be suspended today. Now we are here and can see that the tents are closed.” When the rain abated and the wet mass of people finally began to move towards the Russian pavilion – among others – the disappointment was even worse. “I thought I was going to find many more books. But what they sell is mostly stationery and office supplies,” complained a visitor.

Books from the Spanish publisher Everest, with stories adapted from Disney movies such as Pocahontas and The Ice Age, or from the DC Comics franchise – on several occasions described as “imperialist” and “subversive” on Cuban Television – accompanied the exhibition of Russian titles, guarded by three men who, when asked by some customers, debated whether they should sell the texts. “We should sell the books if no one is going to notice,” the manager told two women who accompanied him, although he did not clarify whose “permission” he needed.

Further on, school notebooks, coloring books, children’s notebooks, crayons, felt-tip pens and pencils occupied several tables, where the majority of visitors crowded around. The reading material, with low-cost books and “gazette” paper, barely showed some classic foreign titles such as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Plague, by Albert Camus and 1984, by George Orwell, ignored by the clientele for their high prices. “The cheapest I’ve seen,” a reader said, “was one about Sherlock Holmes at 1,000 pesos.”

In the case of 1984, whose author was censored on the Island for several decades for his novels, which criticize totalitarian forms of government, there are only a few copies of a Cuban edition, published by the Colombian publisher, Globals Ediciones.

Further on, in the immense pavilion dedicated to Brazil, a presentation of a book in Portuguese barely attracted the attention of those who, more interested in taking refuge from the rain than in listening to the author, occupied the chairs. The exhibition of titles, here also, was one of “you can look but don’t touch,” according to two women.

The reading section, with low-cost books and “gazette” paper, barely showed some classic foreign titles such as The Diary of Anne Frank, The Plague and 1984. (14ymedio)

The main tent, which sold books from Cuban publishers with numerous titles dedicated to Fidel Castro and the defense of the regime, was closed. The same thing happened at the information checkpoints, whose custodians were frightened by the rain and left, or in the places where several presentations and events were scheduled for this Sunday.

“I came to fine inexpensive books (at state prices), but I have not been able to get anything I was looking for,” complained a young man who, angered by the rain and without books, was preparing to undertake the journey home.

The tents for Cuban books and publishers were closed. (14ymedio)

At a fair whose programming announced numerous events, presentations and a wide range of titles, this Sunday’s icing on the cake was a black backpack with the event logo, hung from the roof of one of the booths, which was selling for 7,000 pesos.

From a cafeteria, an employee was talking on the phone to one of his colleagues: “Don’t even hurry, this place is a disaster today. We haven’t sold anything, and anyone who happens to come by is running to avoid the rain. Don’t kill yourself to get here.” The food service on offer consisted only of a variety of corn dishes: boiled or fried ears and tamales.

Discouraged, visitors left the old fortress of La Cabaña as soon as they noticed the pitiful offers. “This year it seems that there is less transport, or maybe fewer people are coming,” reflected a woman with two children, carrying a bag of wet books. “It would have been better not to come.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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