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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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Print Excerpt

AURORA, neighbor

They had been in Cienfuegos for three days and had already cracked somebody's skull, and not just anyone's: it was Bárbaro, Lupe's son, Urbieta's stepson. That day, the parents and the girl, that Johannes, who always rubbed me the wrong way, had gone out. At home, only the two boys were left, so the younger one, after Bárbaro came out screaming and bleeding, he went inside as if nothing had happened and I think he started watching television. He didn't say, "I'll kill anyone who calls me a maricón," he didn't say, "I'm a maricón but whoever calls me that has to fuck me or I'll kill him," he didn't say, "You've got to jerk me off," he didn't say, "You have no respect," none of that; all he did, when Bárbaro approached him and said to him, "You're like a little bit of jelly that I just want to eat up, you're hotter than your sister, and, man, she's hot," he picked up his book, turned it on its side, and dropped it, with shocking speed, and that was the end of Barbarito being fresh, that was as far as he got.


I mean, what kind of black person thinks of naming their sons David King and Samuel Prince, that's just setting them up to think they deserve the world. I would have named one of them Nardo and the other one Paco and that would be that, and if they didn't like it, they could deal with it; although now that I think about it, any name can fuck you up or get you fucked.

The book was one of those that has a hard cover, although it wasn't a Bible, or something by Lenin, or a volume of Martí's complete works, it was some kind of poetry, I'm sure of it because it had a lot of little figures on the front and didn't seem like it would be about anything too serious, but anyway, he really clocked Bárbaro with that book. If that didn't teach him his letters, they're never getting in there, I thought. You have to be really tough to hit someone like that when you've just moved in, really tough or really ignorant of how things work in a neighborhood like this one, you have to be from Pinar del Río, actually, and not from Camagüey.


Hit him, give him a hard one to the belly, then take him to the train tracks and crush his head against the rails and wait for a train to come, then force him to put a foot on the line, if he's left-handed, then the left one, if he's right-handed, then the other one, then piss on him, first once, then again, piss on him, and if you still feel like it, shit on his face, but don't let him touch your ass while you're shitting on him, you don't want anyone to think you're a fag, do him in, he's not worth a dime, finish him, so you get respect and not whatever the hell it is they think of you now. That's what my mother told me when Jelly cracked my skull, she said, Let's go, dammit, we're going so you can crack his skull open, I'll fuck up anyone who gets in the way.

"Let's go."


When they came over, a cowboy show was on TV, not like the crap shows they have today, but the old ones, the ones with the Villalobos brothers, and all of us kids were focused on the TV. Anyway, three knocks came at the door, sounding like cannon fire.


That Arturo opened the door for us.

"Blessings. How can I help you good people?" he said to us, in that way he had of speaking, so soft it was like he had a turd stuck in his throat.

"I don't even believe in my own mother who birthed me, so save your breath," my mother said. "Your good-for-nothing son cracked open Barbarito's head and he has to come out and fight him. Barbarito is nobody's fool, he needs to be shown some respect. So let's have your little gumdrop, or whatever the fuck he is. I don't understand a thing, you're going to have hell to pay."

I don't understand a thing, you're going to have hell to pay. That was how my mother talked. Later, after she had the stroke, Urbieta, who had already gotten out of jail, left her for someone else, and my mother, fifty-some years old, had to spend her days washing floors, white people's floors, and since the stroke had left her kind of dopey, no one respected her. La Lupe, your son is a transvestite, they would say to her, a maricón.

Copyright © 2012 by Marcial Gala

Translation copyright © 2020 by Anna Kushner

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