A review of Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada Essay

Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada. Zo� Vald�s. Arcade publishing Inc. Translation copyright 1997. First published in France.

Zo� Vald�s is a Cuban author currently living in Paris, France. She was born on May 2, 1959. She went to University in Cuba but never enjoyed or felt satisfied her education there. She worked for the Delegation of Cuba before UNESSCO. She also was assistant director of the Magazine of Cuban Cinema in the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry. She won the Planeta Prize in 1996 for her novel, Te di la vida entera. Other works include:

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* Respuestas para vivir

* Todo para una sombra

* Sangre Azul

* Caf� Nostalgia

* Traficantes de belleza

* Cuerdos para el lince

* Milagro en Miami

In my mind, the main purpose behind the authoring of this book is to vent anger. When researching on Valdes, I found many similarities between Valdes and the themes and heroines of her books. For example, both Yocandra and Valdes are born on the same day and live in Havana at some time. They both have contempt for the Communist party. They both marry someone who’s against the Revolution. Critics have said that Valdes often manifests her self in the books she writes. The author grew up in a communist atmosphere and therefore does approach the writing of her books in a biased fashion, mostly looking down on the Cuban government.

Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada, by Zoe Valdes, is about a young Cuban woman retelling her past and explaining the present. Through these narratives, the reader is shown Cuba in a new fresh perspective. The main character is in conflict with herself who she really is.

The novel begins with Patria’s heroic birth to a hero of the sugarcane harvest and his learned wife who left the art world to become his comrade in the fields. Che Guevara blessed Patria’s mother when he symbolically spread the Cuban flag across her swollen belly. When Patria grew a little older, her family and her moved into a new, bigger house in the nicer part of Cuba, the Vedado and out of the “hellhole” known as Central Cuba. As her parents become more distant from each other and Patria, she develops a curiosity for the outside world (bored of nada) and then begins to sneak out of the house.

At age 16 she began a life long relationship with The Traitor. The Traitor is an author turned philosopher and is the reason why Patria changed her name to Yocandra. The Traitor married Yocandra, claiming he needed a “female comrade” for his new position in Europe as an author. In those four years, Yocandra was nothing but a doll in The Traitor’s show, “mistreated” and “cast adrift.” On one random day, Yocandra stumbled upon the so-called marvelous manuscript. Yet all it said was one sentence over and over again for three hundred pages: “Everyone is after me. I can’t write because everyone is after me.” The Traitor claimed she was the main reason why he couldn’t write. After that, she divorced him and flew back to Cuba.

All the people met in Yocandra’s youth were not all bad. Her best friend, The Gusana is an anti-revolutionary, believing in human rights, etc. Unfortunately, The Gusana moves away with a fat Spaniard to Spain to leave the nada of Cuba. From there, she would write to Yocandra, making her long for the day when she could have everything that The Gusana has. She also was friends with The Lynx. The Lynx, the good-looking artist who didn’t care about what anyone thought. After being placed in prison and being appointed to several committees for introducing culture to backward villages in Cuba, The Lynx left on a raft to Miami.

After being married to The Traitor, Yocandra again fell in love for a second time and then was widowed. Then came the Nihilist. The Nihilist is a director/producer but doesn’t have any films to show because they are all prohibited. The Nihilist and The Traitor become both of Yocandra’s lovers. By the end of the novel, Yocandra realizes that despite all of her efforts, she will remain the “ceremonial” Cuban she is and will not change her ways.

The theses of Yocandra in the Paradise of Nada include: Yocandra’s opposition to the Revolution and Yocandra’s personal quest for the meaning of life in Cuba. Yocandra’s opposition to communism and ultimately the Revolution is apparent throughout the novel. When she gets involved with both The Traitor and The Nihilist, she feels as though she is getting revenge on the Revolution. When Yocandra describes the lack of necessities in her amidst, her opposition almost reaches out the book and twists your stomach.

However, the book mainly focuses on the second thesis: Yocandra’s personal quest for the meaning of life in Cuba. Her journey is quite the emotional roller coaster. By deceiving her parents into thinking that she goes to school, she gets away with many things. One of these is getting involved with the Traitor. The Traitor is one of the life experiences she doesn’t forget. By getting involved with him, she leaves everything behind. However, when things don’t work out with them, she learns that opening herself up to a stranger to that extent was a big mistake.

She once again experiences a loss when two of her friends move away to foreign places. Yocandra is back to square one. She is left with the Nihilist and then also with the Traitor. Two men she must see, for one she loves and the other she lusts. At the end however, she comes together, again looking for the meaning of life. Yocandra takes the worst and makes the best out of it. She takes the lack of necessities and the lack of social surroundings and makes into something instead of nothing. This is her Paradise of Nada.

Zoe Valdes’ view of Cuba is a refreshing one. Living in Miami, where many Cubans or Cuban-Americans live, her view is a common one. However, her bold statements and precise descriptions far surpass any I have heard so far. Yocandra’s emphatic feminist characterization can easy be liked. Valdes takes simple things like typing and makes it slightly erotic. Yocandra’s late teen, early adult nature can be related to many. I found the book candid and honest. This book did contribute to my knowledge of Cuban history and present tension in Cuba.

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