Excerpt from The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Black Cathedral

by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala X
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 224 pages

    Jan 2021, 224 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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That man from Camagüey ate, lived, and breathed Jesus Christ, always had Him at the tip of his tongue. The day of their arrival, he threw five pesos at the kids who were playing soccer so they would help him unload the stuff, and then he came over to greet us. He had a polite smile and a thin, strong, dry hand. "Blessings," he said. "My name is Arturo and this is my wife, Carmen." "Blessings," echoed that Carmen, who was walking a few steps behind; you could tell she was too hot for a guy like him, in his fifties and pretty run-down, you could tell that wouldn't end well. I was shocked when he introduced the kids, since they didn't seem like they were hers. The three of them were tall, especially the older boy, David, he was a real beanpole and only thirteen years old. The younger one, Prince, held out his elegant, slightly sweaty hand and looked at us with those same slanted eyes as his mother and his sister, and I thought, This one's a fairy.

"Please, can you tell me where the Church of the Holy Sacrament is?" the guy asked.

"Church of the Holy Sacrament?" was the response. "There's never been anything like that here."


Jelly, Barbarito, Lupe's kid, named him, as soon as he saw him reading right in the middle of the day, as if there were no soccer to play, no girls to check out, no kite to fly, no gas to pass. He said to me, "Guts, if this guy isn't a fairy, he knows where the pixie dust is," especially since the kid was wearing some tight pants, a little too short, that were ugly as sin. "That's the fashion in Camagüey," Berta had to say, she was already defending him back then, saying he looked like Michael Jackson before he bleached his skin, that he was a beautiful black boy like none other in the neighborhood and that he was good enough to eat; "not like his brother, who you can tell is kind of loony."

"That one's queerer than a three-dollar bill," Barbarito insisted. "You'll see."


The truth is that we were innocent back then, even if our future was already wasted. NO ONE GETS OUT OF THIS NEIGHBORHOOD ALIVE, someone had written on the side of a house, because the neighborhood was bad, really and truly bad. If you're born black, you're already screwed; imagine if, in addition, you have to live in the squalid rooming houses of a neighborhood like this; and I'm a university graduate, a psychologist, and even have a master's in business administration, you'd think I wouldn't be so fucked. But with a salary of four hundred pesos and no bonus in foreign currency, what can you possibly come up with? Nothing—Armageddon. I didn't see them arrive; they called me when the younger one, Prince, split open Lupe's kid Bárbaro's head. He did it with a book, terrible, blood everywhere, and I said, "Somebody's going to get it," because that Lupe isn't rational, she's a fat black woman with arms that look like Muhammad Ali's and a temper that, well, I don't know what to compare it to, but to say it's short would be an understatement. "Does his mother know yet?" I asked, while I cleaned up the kid's wound.

"Not yet, she's out, busting her ass."

"When she finds out, she's gonna make a lot of noise."

"That Jelly is going to pay for this, I'll make him suck my balls, goddammit, I'll cut off his dick, shit, goddamn," Barbarito said, his eyes tearing up, not looking like he could hurt anyone.


Jelly: because he was like a dark substance almost like water, but when you look closer, you realize it's fat, thick, and heavy; Jelly, because he looked at us with those wide eyes like a girl's, he was really thin, he'd smile at the drop of a hat, and then get into some terrible fights. He knew how to fight, not with his hands, but by picking up rocks, sand, sticks, cans, whatever there was. He hit Barbarito with the edge of a book; it was a quick, skilled, and cunning blow, as if he'd practiced a lot. This dude has a future in the neighborhood, I thought, if Lupe doesn't throw the whole family out on their ass, she'll make such a racket that they'll pack up and fly back to Camagüey, they won't know how to react when Lupe comes around asking about her son's cracked skull and stands there with her feet planted, screaming for someone to take responsibility, with a "Go to hell" and a "Fuck your mother" to everyone from Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, the eastern part of the island, and even from Haiti.

Copyright © 2012 by Marcial Gala

Translation copyright © 2020 by Anna Kushner

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