Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Sick Sunflowers, Santeria and Suffering: The Short Stories of Surama Ferrer

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Sick Sunflowers, Santeria and Suffering: The Short Stories of Surama Ferrer

Article excerpt

Abstract

The collection of twelve short stories published in 1953 by the little-known Cuban woman writer Surama Ferrer has attracted scant critical attention, despite its varied and disturbing content. With elements of the supernatural fused with santeria, the stories relate to the female life cycle in terms of birth, blood, menopause and death. Peppered with violent incidents, they contain shocking events including suicide and infanticide. Family relationships are characterized by fracture, bitterness and hatred, as if blood ties have no relevance. Why are these stories so dark and pessimistic in terms of gender and family relationships? What is the significance of allusions to santeria and the magical powers of the sunflower? This article will attempt to unpick the various themes and devices present in these stories, in an effort to draw conclusions about the stability of family and gender relationships in mid twentieth-century Cuba.

Resumen

La colección de doce cuentos publicadas en 1953 por la poca conocida autora cubana Surama Ferrer no ha atraído mucha atención, a pesar de su contenido variado e inquietante. Con elementos de lo sobrenatural fundido con santería, los cuentos se relacionan con el círculo de vida femenina en cuanto al nacimiento, la sangre, la menopausia, y la muerte. Salpicados de episodios violentos, los cuentos contienen aspectos chocantes y bárbaros incluyendo suicidio y infanticidio. Las relaciones familiales se caracterizan por rotura, amargura y odio, como si los enlaces de sangre no contaran para nada. ¿Por qué son tán oscuros y pesimistos estos cuentos en términos de género y relaciones familiales? ¿Qué es el significado de las alusiones a la santería y al poder mágico del girasol? Este artículo intentará analizar sus temas y estrategemas para tirar conclusiones sobre la estabilidad de las relaciones familiares y de género en Cuba a mediados del siglo veinte.

Despite the strength of the short story genre in Cuba in the middle of the twentieth century, largely due to the relative ease of publication of the short story as distinct from the novel, to the success of the Hernández-Catá short story prize, and to the woman-authored short stories of Dora Alonso and Lydia Cabrera, the collection of short stories by the little-known Cuban woman writer Surama Ferrer entitled El girasol enfermo. Cuentos (1953) has attracted scant critical attention, being mentioned only briefly in anthologies.1 Even fairly recent anthologies, published since 2000, have not included Ferrer (Yañez 2004; Bobes 2008). This may be due to her departure from the island in 1961. Yet even before the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution in 2009, cultural critics had asserted that the Cuban literary canon no longer excludes writers who leftCuba and published in exile; on the contrary, Cuba has now reclaimed its writers in the diaspora, including those who have overtly criticized the regime. One can understand why Ferrer did not figure in early post-revolutionary anthologies, once she leftfor Puerto Rico, where she published four more short stories before vanishing from library records. However there is nowadays no justification for her omission in Cuban literary history. With elements of the supernatural fused with santeria,2 the stories relate to the female life cycle in terms of birth, blood, the menopause, suffering and death, presenting a dark, pessimistic and disturbing picture of family life and in particular the position of women. Peppered with violent incidents, they contain shocking events including suicide and infanticide. Family relationships are characterized by fracture, bitterness, hatred and retribution, as if blood ties have no relevance. Why are these stories so dark and pessimistic in terms of gender and family relationships? What is the significance of allusions to santeria and the magical powers of the sunflower? Are these stories unique or do they form part of a particular strand in Cuban short story production? …

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