January 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
Unco author Cally Phillips has written two remarkable books featuring Cuba
and there's never been a better time to read them.
'Revolutionaries will come who will sing the song of the new man and woman
in the true voice of the people' (Guevara)
The One that Got Away.
To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution Cally Phillips sings her revolutionary song. The One that Got Away offers a personal and passionate perspective which will challenge and charm anyone open enough to want to explore beyond the beach. Uncompromising in structure and style, it offers something truly new in fiction.
You won’t find critiques of this book from the mainstream media – it’s not the kind of book the mainstream would champion, or even countenance. Why should they? It challenges everything they stand for.
But there are readers who have enjoyed it. Real people. Maybe like you. Maybe not. This is what those people have said:
‘Evocative, realistic and sobering. I really enjoyed it.’
‘A journey that touches your soul and connects you to an existence that is rea.l’
‘Immerse yourself in Cuba – its culture, its people, its ideologies, its dichotomies. Read this book and I guarantee your preconceived ideas of the country will change.’
‘A place where humanity is revered not as a commodity to be exploited purely for gain but is an integral part of a society.’
‘Hard to put down. Sad and beautiful in equal measure. Coffee and sugar in perfect harmony!’
'A celebration of an absolute truth, where truth is looked square in the eye.’
So what is it all about?
The One that Got Away is the ‘companion’ volume to Cally Phillips 2007 work Another World is Possible but you don’t need to have read that to ‘get’ this. This is the story of Tom Black (a minor character in AWIP) set mostly in 1989. Against the backdrop of a failing marriage, the fall of the Soviet Union, amidst the rise of Thatcher’s ‘no society’ Britain and global ‘free’ markets Tom goes to Havana with a job to do. But what job? The reader can barely work it out – is he a spy, is he ‘just an economist’ or is he ‘only a man’? In any case, he is confronted by a world that challenges his identity to its very core – and the reader may face a similar challenge.
Stylistically this book challenges. Forget three act narrative structure. This story is laid out as a pack of cards, the ‘full deck’ of 52 chapters broken into 8 ‘games’. While there is an element of linear story which throws in (among other things) a passing nod to the Graham Greene thriller Our Man in Havana, the work has undertones and gracenotes far beyond this. It plays with narrative structure and theme deliberately, the goal being a reordering of narrative itself. The author explains her belief that: ‘the progressive linear three act structure narrative form is the product and the darling of a capitalist aspirational mindset and in writing this story, which tells of a different view of life, a different structure had to be developed. The established tradition of socialist novels didn’t offer a solution, so I played around with all that has gone before, attempting to develop a new narrative. Whatever else it is, it is a revolutionary structure. The conceit of the cards is simply to disrupt the expectations of the reader and to point towards an alternative experience and expression of reality.’
That said, the revolutionary structure does not hold up the action but is embedded, guerrilla-like in the narrative, so that Tom draws the reader along with him. Together they face a world they think they understand but discover they never really knew. The change of perspectives leads to a change of heart – and a fundamental shift in identity.
The novel’s exploration of the complexities of Cuban culture is reflected in its powerful descriptions of Cuban coffee – the bitter and sweet combination being integral to the spirit of the work as it is to the spirit of Cuba.
In the end, you will have not just read a story, but experienced a different way of reading, of thinking and of being. The challenge laid down to the reader is to forget everything you believe you know, open your eyes and let the taste and flavour of revolution course through your veins.
Not for the risk averse! Buying this book, and more so reading this book, will be a gamble – but if you take on The Full Deck you may discover something that causes you to reconsider what you know about Cuba, about economics, about love, about reading – and even about yourself.