Rena Effendi’s Havana
In this week’s issue of the magazine, Jon Lee Anderson writes about the Cuban novelist Leonardo Padura, and about Cuba’s complex, troubled history with its writers and artists.
Anderson quotes Reinaldo Arenas, the displaced Cuban writer best know for his memoir, “Before Night Falls,” in a 1983 interview with Ann Tashi Slater: “Everyone who lives outside his context is always a bit of a ghost, because I am here, but at the same time I remember a person who walked those streets, who is there, and that same person is me. So sometimes I don’t really know if I am here or there. And at times the longing to be there is greater than the necessity of being here.”
The photographer Rena Effendi, whose pictures accompany Anderson’s piece, documented many of the neighborhoods and enclaves that appear in the work of Padura and other Cuban artists. In her photos of Havana, we see a city almost frozen in time. Relics of another era dot the streets, like props from a period film. Effendi also depicts the city’s lively street life, photographing people in motion against a backdrop of vivid murals and Havana’s signature pastel colors. “Cuba is neither a paradise nor a hell but, rather,” Anderson writes, “more of a purgatory, where some of us have the possibility of salvation.”