The Initials of the Earth

The Initials of the Earth

Latin America in Translation/En Traducción/Em Tradução

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Book Pages: 456 Illustrations: 1 map Published: October 2006

Latin American Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Fiction, Literary Criticism

Many critics consider The Initials of the Earth to be the quintessential novel of the Cuban Revolution and the finest work by the Cuban writer and filmmaker Jesús Díaz. Born in Havana in 1941, Díaz was a witness to the Revolution and ardent supporter of it until the last decade of his life. In 1992 he took up residence as an exile in Berlin and later in Madrid, where he died in 2002. This is the first of his books to be translated into English.

Originally written in the 1970s, then rewritten and published simultaneously in Havana and Madrid in 1987, The Initials of the Earth spans the tumultuous years from the 1950s until the 1970s, encompassing the Revolution and its immediate aftermath. The novel opens as the protagonist, Carlos Pérez Cifredo, sits down to fill out a questionnaire for readmission to the Cuban Communist Party. It closes with Carlos standing before a panel of Party members charged with assessing his merit as an “exemplary worker.” The chapters between relate Carlos’s experiences of the pre- and postrevolutionary era. His family is torn apart as some members reject the Revolution and flee the country while others, including Carlos, choose to stay. He witnesses key events including the Bay of Pigs invasion, the Cuban missile crisis, and the economically disastrous sugar harvest of 1970. Throughout the novel, Díaz vividly renders Cuban culture through humor, slogans, and slang; Afro-Cuban religion; and references to popular music, movies, and comics.

This edition of The Initials of the Earth includes a bibliography and filmography of Diaz’s works and a timeline of the major events of the Cuban revolutionary period. In his epilogue, the Cuban writer Ambrosio Fornet reflects on Díaz’s surprising 1992 renunciation of the Revolution, their decades-long friendship, and the novel’s reception, structure, and place within Cuban literary history.


“A landmark in the literature of the Cuban Revolution. . . . This excellent English translation preserves the hybrid feel of the original Spanish.” — Forum for Modern Language Studies

“[A] novel where language—the language of 1950s US popular culture (cartoons, film, popular music), the playfulness of Cuban choteo, but also new and often strident revolutionary discourses—blend with and transform each other to create a mostly affectionate portrayal of how newly-formed activists were alternately bewildered and enchanted by the pace and scope of socio-political change. The novel develops into a marvelously ambiguous narrative of the revolution, a brutally honest but also humorous depiction of how the protagonist negotiates, with sometimes tragic consequences, the new world of the Revolution.” — PAR KUMARASWAMI, Bulletin of Spanish Studies

“[I trusted] Kathleen Ross to keep the prose flowing and honest to the unseen original art. What a task. Díaz loads his prose with stylistic games and the cultural allusions must have given Ross headaches and sleepless nights.” — Michael Sedona, La Bloga

“[T]he definitive novel of the Cuban Revolution. . . . The foreword and epilogue help contextualize the novel for readers unfamiliar with Cuban history. . . . Recommended.” — Y. Fuentes, Choice

“Any literary discussion of a translated literary text must start by judging the quality of the translation. And, in this work, Kathleen Ross has done a superb job. I particularly enjoyed the ways she is able to carry, in a different language, the percussive rhythm characterizing Diaz’s sharp and brief dialogues. . . . [T]he novel achieves its particular realistic style by crafting historical raw materials into a playful work of literature able to critique, as far as possible at the time, the dogmatism found under Cuba’s Socialist model. . . . [Diaz] is a master of parody, a very significant literary genre when writing under censorship. . . .” — Madeline Cámara, Cuban Affairs

“The chronology, the notes, the bibliography and the map help us understand where Jesús Díaz was coming from in 1987 and where he ended up. . . . And the translation, by Kathleen Ross, is splendid: inventive, idiomatic and precise without being pedantic.” — Terrence Rafferty, New York Times Book Review

The Initials of the Earth is an emblematic novel of the Cuban Revolution, and the most significant of those set in the Cuba of the 1960s. . . . [It] is the novel that gives voice to the ways in which Cubans—and particularly young revolutionaries—experienced [those] years of epic change and crisis.” — Ambrosio Fornet, from the epilogue

“This translation of Las Iniciales de la tierra is an exceptional event, and a rare chance to experience Cuban revolutionary literature first-hand.” — Fredric Jameson, from the foreword


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jesús Díaz (1941–2002) was a prominent Cuban writer, filmmaker, and intellectual. His novels include Las cuatro fugas de Manuel, Dime algo sobre Cuba, and Las palabras perdidas. He wrote screenplays and directed movies, including Lejanía and Polvo rojo. Díaz was the founder of the influential cultural magazine Encuentro, which publishes the work of Cuban writers on the island and in exile.

Table of Contents Back to Top
The Initials of the Earth by Jesus Diaz 3

Epilogue / Ambrosio Fornet 371

Afterword / Kathleen Ross 395

Notes 401

Glossary 425

Bibliography 429

Foreword / Fredric Jameson xi

Translator’s Preface / Kathleen Ross xvii

Brief Chronology of Events in Cuba, 1942–75 xxi
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3844-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3829-1
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