Haunting and transcendently twisted, this English-language debut from a Cuban literary star is a tale of race, magic, belief, and fate
The Stuart family moves to a marginal neighborhood of Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba. Arturo Stuart, a charismatic, visionary preacher, discovers soon after arriving that God has given him a mission: to build a temple that surpasses any before seen in Cuba, and to make of Cienfuegos a new Jerusalem.
In a neighborhood that roils with passions and conflicts, at the foot of a cathedral that rises higher day by day, there grows a generation marked by violence, cruelty, and extreme selfishness. This generation will carry these traits beyond the borders of the neighborhood, the city, and the country, unable to escape the shadow of the unfinished cathedral.
Told by a chorus of narrators—including gossips, gangsters, a ghost, and a serial killer—who flirt, lie, argue, and finish one another’s stories, Marcial Gala's The Black Cathedral is a darkly comic indictment of modern Cuba, gritty and realistic but laced with magic. It is a portrait of what remains when dreams of utopia have withered away.
In Gala's strange, exuberant, and altogether brilliant English-language debut, a vibrant collection of narrators tell the story of a tight-knit community in Cienfuegos, Cuba. The Stuarts, a religious family, move into town and set into motion numerous threads, narrated by a number of neighborhood residents. Arturo, the father, decides to build a temple for his growing church, the Church of the Holy Sacrament of the Resurrected, which begins as a congregation of "no more than a dozen people" and balloons to "more than twenty thousand." Johannes, the artist daughter, beguiles and rejects the duplicitous hustler Gringo, who, because of this (according to him), turns into a murderous con man who sells the bodies of his victims as meat to unsuspecting locals in a neighboring upscale community. David King and Samuel Prince, the Stuart sons, have opposing personalities (King is athletic and domineering; Prince is gentle and poetically minded), but they come together to commit a horrible atrocity. One of Gringo's victims haunts Prince's friend Berta from beyond the grave, seeking help to take care of some unfinished business, which leads Berta to Araceli, with whom Berta and Prince form a love triangle. The temple, meanwhile, is never finished; it grows and grows and grows, eating up money and time and the spirits of those dedicated to erecting it. An enthralling work of imagination and grit, Gala's novel captures the complexity of one neighborhood as much as it exemplifies the many pleasures of great fiction.