Few Cuban writers embodied the paradigm of frustration and brilliance of genius like Guillermo Rosales (Cuba, 1946 – Miami, 1993). Although he destroyed most of his work before committing suicide, The Halfway House survived and was published posthumously. A collection of short stories, Leap Frog, was published by New Directions in 2013.
Leapfrog depicts one summer in the life of a very poor young boy in postrevolutionary Havana of the late ’50s. He has superhero fantasies, hangs around with the neighborhood kids, smokes cigarettes, tells very lame jokes: “By the way, do you know who died? No. Someone who was alive. Laughter.” The kids fight, discuss the mysteries of religion and sex, and play games — such as leapfrog. So vivid and so very credible, Leapfrog reads as if Rosales had simply transcribed everything that he’d heard or said for this one moving and touching book about a lost childhood.
Leapfrog was a finalist for Cuba’s prestigious Casa de las Americas award in 1968. Years later, Rosales’s sister told The Miami Herald that Rosales felt he hadn’t won the prize because his book lacked sufficient leftist fervor, and that subtle critiques of cruel children and hypocritical adults throughout his playful recollections had clearly “rankled” state officials. In the end the novel never appeared in Cuba. It was first published in Spain in 1994, a year after Rosales’s death.
Never before available in English, The Halfway House is a trip to the darkest corners of the human condition. Humiliations, filth, stench, and physical abuse comprise the asphyxiating atmosphere of a halfway house for indigents in Miami where, in a shaken mental state, the writer William Figueras lives after his exile from Cuba. He claims to have gone crazy after the Cuban government judged his first novel “morose, pornographic, and also irreverent, because it dealt harshly with the Communist Party,” and prohibited its publication. By the time he arrives in Miami twenty years later, he is a “toothless, skinny, frightened guy who had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward that very day” instead of the ready-for-success exile his relatives expected to welcome and receive among them. Placed in a halfway house, with its trapped bestial inhabitants and abusive overseers, he enters a hell. Romance appears in the form of Frances, a mentally fragile woman and an angel, with whom he tries to escape in this apocalyptic classic of Cuban literature. “Behind the hardly one hundred pages,” Canarias Diario stated, “is the work of a tireless fabulist, a writer who delights in language, extracting verbs and adjectives which are powerful enough to stop the reader in his tracks.”