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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"Yohandris Carlos Fernández Ramírez is going straight to a juvenile detention center, where the real savages are, that's the place for him," said Pancho, the policeman, and signed a little piece of paper.

But the following day, my father called my uncle who sits on the Central Committee, and they sent me back to school. They even apologized, all the teacher could do was stand in front of the chalkboard and say I was the best thing since sliced bread; but I didn't have a head for reading, or for numbers. Cricket did. That idiot knows so much, I would think, and sometimes I felt like punching him. It sucks when you realize that a space cadet like that knows more than you.

"It's because he pays attention, Guts," said Nacho Fat-Lips, who had failed sixth grade for the second time.

"He doesn't pay shit. The point is that he has an engine in his head, and when it's running, he knows everything. All my head is good for is knocking people with it."

Despite his smarts, Cricket was pretty absentminded. Sometimes, he would just stand there, staring at the sun, oblivious to the world, he would even start drooling, and as tall and skinny as he was, he looked like something evil, like a wingless black heron wanting to fly. "Cricket," I would say, because he scared me when he got like that, and then he would start to sing, and that was the worst. "This one's nuts."


There's very little to say about the mother. Since she almost never left the house, for the fifteen years she lived there, it would be a stretch if I said I talked to her a handful of times; she was, however, someone who shared, she didn't keep anything to herself. You just had to ask her for something for her to give it over, although later she would saddle you with one of those little sayings, Christian ones. I was really fucking sick of her Christianity.


I got tired of going everywhere on a bike, even though it was a good brand and everything, you had to pedal like hell, so I told Pork Chop, "My man, get things ready, 'cause early tomorrow, I'm going hunting. I don't want to see you drunk or poorly dressed; when I get to your house with the two-legged ox, everything has to be okay, is that clear?"

"Clear as water."

"Killing a guy is no easy thing, I'm doing this because we're in the fuácata, broke as hell, but if there were another way to make a living, really, I wouldn't do this."

"Me neither, chief," Pork Chop said. "I'd like to be good, not be messed up in anything, but what can you do, the money's gone."

"You said it."

That morning, I got dressed in the best I had, I waited until La Mimbre opened, and I stood really close to the door; every time I saw a well-dressed, big-time guajiro, I would whisper to him real low, "Wanna buy a motorbike?"

MARIANO MESA GUILLOT, former principal of Rafael Espinosa High School

The smart one was the younger one, Samuel Prince. His brother was only able to retain things, he had a fairly good memory, he was like a filter. But he was just an average student. Prince was brilliant. I taught both of them, and they had very different personalities. Cricket, or, rather, David King, just wanted to fit in, to get along with his classmates and be accepted; he participated in class and was pretty good at sports despite seeming uncoordinated because his limbs were so long. Samuel Prince, on the contrary, was proud, calculating. He never raised his hand, but when you addressed him, Let's see, Samuel, tell us…, he responded exhaustively. In physical education, he wasn't one of the worst, either, he could hold his own, especially in track and field, in endurance tests, no one could beat him. But when the trainers wanted to recruit him for the sports-focused high school, he said no. Anyway, I was the principal of that school for thirty straight years, and the best and the worst of everything passed through there, but what those Stuart boys did doesn't make any sense to me, it's like a sign of modern times, of what's to come, if I may. I can't connect those two young boys I met, whose heads I sometimes patted with my hand, with that; well, it takes my breath away, honestly.

Copyright © 2012 by Marcial Gala

Translation copyright © 2020 by Anna Kushner

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