1. How did you come up with the title?
In 1917 something extraordinary happened in the village of Fátima, Portugal.
Three children claimed that they saw the Virgin Mary and angels descending from the sky and that they had been entrusted with three secrets. They also said that the Virgin would perform a miracle on October 13. On that day, tens of thousands of people came to Fátima and witnessed extraordinary solar activity, although nobody else in the rest of the world witnessed the phenomenon. For believers it was a miracle, for sceptics it was a hoax produced with the aid of mirrors or a collective hallucination, and some even believed that there had been some kind of extraterrestrial intervention. Since my childhood this amazing story has fascinated me. Recently, I spent considerable time in Cuba where I was told stories by those who had experienced Fidel Castro’s regime firsthand. For example, the students who were brought from Havana to the countryside and for a whole month picked tomatoes and other vegetables without any payment. They also told me the story of the execution of one of the nation’s heroes, General Arnaldo Ochoa – who helped the MPLA Marxist guerrillas to win the Angolan civil war (he is the inspiration for the character Camilo Ochoa). The relation between Castro and the miracle of Fátima is that one of the prophecies included the end of Communism.
2. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
The book stands for political freedom and for humanitarian, or Christian, values – although miracles are satirised. Religious people shouldn’t be afraid of humour. Surely God can take a joke. Humour is indeed a weapon of massive destruction, but not to kill people. It only destroys stupidity – Monty Python ridiculed Hitler’s image several times. Ridendo castigat mores – as the Romans used to say. So, I tried to show that religious or political dogmas always lead to fanaticism or dictatorship. Human beings are different from other animals because they have the ability to think, to question things and to laugh. That is why we have democracy and freedom - and some cultures do not. Jesus was the first to say that all men are equal and to question the dogmas of the temple rulers. He also saved a woman from being stoned, according to the tradition. So, he was a much greater revolutionary than Castro or Che Guevara – with no need to put people in jail or condemn them to death.
3. How much of the book is realistic?
As I said, both the Cuban experience and Portuguese history form the base of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro. Some critics point out that the book has a magical realism style, but in fact it doesn’t. I would prefer that The Tragedy of Fidel Castro should be considered a political and religious satire or a metaphysical thriller where Jesus comes to Earth to prevent a war.
4. If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book?
In the novel I wrote about Castro making a Marxist interpretation of the Old Testament - the story of David, Uriah and Bathseba: “David is a despotic monarch whose wealth lies in the exploitation of an oppressed people who are deprived of access to education. […] ‘’ Bathsheba represents the housewife looking after the household while her husband is away serving the tyrant, a domestic worker then.’’[…]’’ Uriah is also a member of the people who for the same lack of indoctrination loyally serves the tyrant, convinced that their interests coincide.’’ But I also included Jesus having a dream about Adam and Eve trying to escape from a paradise ruled by El Comandante - this points to the Cuban ''balseros'' who risked their lives to reach Florida. So, if I wrote the book again I would explore this crossing of religion and politics in more detail.
5. What was the hardest part of writing your book?
The hardest part is always to read the text again and again to check for mistakes. For me, this process can take months. Picasso used to say that a painting was never finished – I think that is also true for a book. There is always a word in the wrong place.
6. Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
I learned a great deal when the book was translated into English and then published. I think I have improved my skills as a writer very much thanks to my translators and the two editors of my publisher.
7. Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
I was lucky enough to inherit my father’s book collection with hundreds of books including all of the classics. From The Canterbury Tales to Don Quixote, all the major titles were there. At eighteen I read East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Another important book was Pär Lagerkvist’s The Dwarf, the protagonist of which was incapable of feeling anything else for humanity other than hatred and contempt, which also fascinated me. At that time, I also read Cosmos by Carl Sagan, which taught me to understand the universe; I learned that the stars and I were made of the same stuff – this idea is in The Tragedy of Fidel Castro - and that many of them although still visible, may no longer exist. These are the books that initiated me into adulthood.
I then read two remarkable works: 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the dystopian prophecies of which are, for some, now coming true. Years later I rediscovered Orwell when I wrote Art and Literature in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell fought against Fascism, but in the end the Communists wanted to kill him too. Homage to Catalonia describes this tragic experience that leads to books such as 1984 and Animal Farm. I have a great admiration for this man.
8. Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
I don’t have just one favourite writer. It was through Portuguese writers that I learned to write. Hence my belief that form – that is, command of language – is as, or more important, than content. I admire Saramago’s sequence of ideas, the multiplicity of perspectives of Lobo Antunes, the perfection of Mário Cláudio, the reflective writing of Virgílio Ferreira and sense of humor of Mário de Carvalho. Going back in time, I use Fialho d'Almeida, Fernando Pessoa and the sermons of Padre António Vieira as a model. Other novelists that I like are Victor Hugo, Kafka, Mikhail Bulgakov, Margarite Yourcenar, Italo Calvino, Amin Malouf, W. G. Sebald, Philip Roth, William Faulkner, Salman Rushdie, Jorge Amado, Paul Auster, and Erasmus (In Praise of Folly) for having taught me that to succeed in life you must be mad. Finally, I believe that Remembrance of Things Past is perhaps the most complex work of writing to date; only Proust was able to transform scenes from Parisian high society in great literature.
9. Tell us your latest news.
LA Splash Magazine posted The Tragedy of Fidel Castro in both their book gift guide and entertainment roundup gift guide.
Columnists and book reviewers of important American, English and Australian newspapers and magazines have agreed to receive the novel, so I expect to have their reviews in the next weeks or months. Besides the reviews in Amazon and in several American blogs I have received an enthusiastic critique from Italian magazine Fucinemute
I am currently working with literary agencies around the globe, including Nabu (Italy), Kontext (Scandinavia), Ilene Kreshka (Germany), AKF(Poland), Iris Literary (Greece), Nova Litera (Russia), Book Seventeen Agency (South Korea), The Book Publishers Association of Israel, Partha Malik (India) and AnatoliaLit (Turkey) – all of which are looking for a publisher in the local language and market.
10. Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
I would be very much grateful if you would contact me to tell me your opinion about my novel – even if you hate it, please tell me!
I also would like to share the text I wrote as a guest post for a blog: Books can kill you! (and beware of writers):
and two Cuba chronicles:
About the Book
Tragedy of Fidel Castro is a political and religious satire where Jesus comes to Earth to prevent a war, JFK goes swimming with a Cuban spy, Fidel Castro writes his memoirs and makes a pact with the Devil, whores refuse Marxism, farmers fight for chocolate, monks start a revolution in a monastery, and, in the end, a true miracle happens.
Prices/Formats: $14.95 paperback
Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Green Leaf Books
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Buy Links: Amazon, Barnes and Noble
About the Author
João Cerqueira was born in Portugal in 1964 and lives in Viana do Castelo. He has a PhD in art history from the University of Oporto. He is the author of seven books, including the novels Blame It on Too Much Freedom, Devil's Observations, and The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, and the nonfiction books Art and Literature in the Spanish Civil War (published in Portugal and Brazil), Maria Pia: Queen and Woman, José de Guimarães (published in China by the Today Art Museum), and José de Guimarães: Public Art. His novels satirize modern society and use irony and humor to provoke reflection and controversy.
Links to connect with João:
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