The Melancholy Muse: Mylene Fernández Pintado on Stories, Sentinels, and Staying in Cuba

(Los Angeles Review of Books, June 20, 2015) Mylene on balcony, sun

EACH TIME WRITER Mylene Fernández Pintado has a new novel or short story collection published, she performs an unusual book-release ritual. New book in hand, she heads for Havana’s Terminal Víazul where she boards a two-and-a-half hour bus to the rural western town of Pinar del Río. The bus is usually crowded with eager, talkative tourists enroute to Cuba’s eco-paradise of Viñales, but Fernández keeps to herself, staring out the window at the oxen-plowed tobacco fields and spindly royal palms, the faded clapboard farmhouses and verdant Cordillera de Guaniguanico range. When her bus stops at Pinar del Río’s terminal, Fernández walks down the main street, block after block until, at its end, she reaches her destination: El Cementerio Católico. At its entrance, she purchases flowers, and then meanders through the maze of tombstones until she finds herself in front of her mother’s grave.

Here Fernández lays down her new book, which is always dedicated to her mother.

“And then I cry,” she says.

I bawl like a little child. When I calm down, I speak to her. I tell her how I’ve been, how much I miss her, and then I inscribe the first page of my book to her. I know that after I leave, maybe it rains and gets wet or maybe somebody steals it, but I always imagine that, in some way, my mother reads it. She was all my support for studying, for writing, and I want her to know it wasn’t in vain.

Fernández’s cemetery ceremony could be seen as not just a homage to her mother, but to all those who’ve influenced her writing, so many of whom she’s lost: her father, to whom her books are also dedicated, died in 2007, five years after her mother; and Fernández’s only sibling and most of her other relatives moved to Miami years before.

“Of my original family, only I remain in Cuba,” she says, “like some sort of sentinel.”

But more than a guardian of graves or of the family’s home where she still lives in Havana, Fernández might most fittingly be described as a literary guardian of Cuba, a collector of her island’s own stories of loss and longing and, also, of love.

Keep reading The Melancholy Muse at the LA Review of Books.