|Author||José Lezama Lima|
Paradiso was the only novel by Cuban poet José Lezama Lima to be completed and published during his lifetime. Written in an elaborately baroque style, the narrative follows the childhood and youth of José Cemí, and depicts many scenes which resonate with Lezama's own life as a young poet in Havana. Many of the characters reappear in Lezama's posthumous novel Oppiano Licario, which was published in Mexico in 1977.
The novel relates Cemí's struggles with a mysterious childhood illness, describes the death of his father, and explores his homosexuality and literary sensibilities. He lives in the world of pre-Castro Havana, and the Cuban Revolution only appears as a secondary plot. Some of the later chapters incorporate narrative experiments in which several alternating narratives, set during widely divergent eras and having no immediately apparent connection with the story of José Cemí, are interwoven and eventually merged. Because of the graphic homosexual scenes and the novel's ambivalence towards the political situation of the day, Paradiso encountered controversy and publication problems. Today it is widely read in the Spanish-speaking world but has not achieved the same fame in English-speaking countries despite a translation by Gregory Rabassa.
Despite having written one of the most accomplished novels in Cuba's history, Lezama said he never considered himself a novelist, but rather a poet who wrote a poem that became a novel. Paradiso can thus be considered a kind of long poem, just as well as a neo-baroque novel.
Interrogando a Lezama Lima. Recopilación de textos sobre José Lezama Lima. Ed. Pedro Simon Martinez. La Habana: Ediciones Casa de las Américas: 1970.
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