Summary and book reviews of The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral

by Marcial Gala

The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala X
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 224 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2021, 224 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

PART ONE

MARIBEL GARCÍA MEDINA

Besides David King and Samuel Prince, there was an older one, Mary Johannes, she was called, or still is, because she's alive and things are going better for her than for us. They arrived in Punta Gotica one day in an old Ford truck with Camagüey plates. I remember them unloading their stuff. Too much furniture for someone moving into a neighborhood like this, I thought from the first.

YOHANDRIS CARLOS FERNÁNDEZ RAMÍREZ, a.k.a. GUTS

I was playing soccer when they arrived. This can't be good, I thought, because the girl riding in the truck's cab was fanning herself and looking at the neighborhood as if they'd dropped her right at the doors to hell. "One more sucker in town," I said out loud, and went back to doing my thing. The guys were just kids then; Cricket, the older one, already looked like a total nutjob. I can take that one, I'll hack him down like a palm tree, I thought, because he was very tall. "Guts, he's so tall he can't...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Gala's novel isn't based around a single event, but rather the continual horror and occasional beauty of people reacting to one another and their own feelings, setting the courses of their lives according to rhythms that exist outside of them—those of money, of love, of power. The Black Cathedral is an effervescent read filled with energy, possibility and chaotic delights...continued

Full Review (893 words).

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(Reviewed by Elisabeth Cook).

Media Reviews

New York Times
[S]urreal. Accidental cannibals, tenderhearted killers, angst-ridden ghosts and well-behaved artists soon populate [The Black Cathedral's] topsy-turvy universe...Even as the novel charts the voyages of its vagabonds, it represents an attempt to draw the periphery into the center, steering us toward the provinces as it renovates the Cuban novel.

Los Angeles Review of Books
Trained as an architect, the author seems less interested in chronology and its secrets than in creating the illusion that we’re experiencing his story from every angle, as we would were we walking through a building. The strategy of embedding the future in the present has the effect of deepening the pathos, heightening our awareness of the vulnerability of characters who, in keeping with the principles of tragedy, appear to be moving inexorably toward their fates...The Black Cathedral is a book about survival—every character is in danger of imminent harm—but there’s a melancholy playfulness that enlivens the tragedy.

Asymptote
A transcendent tale of what it is to be human in a place not made to nurture. Exploring this idea of humanity in all its twisted, generous, deviant, beautiful forms, Gala’s novel is a twisted ode to a town teeming with magic and limitless potential, and replete with people in chase of unlikely dreams. Written with an astute colloquialism that captures a true and impressive diversity of voice, The Black Cathedral transports the reader to the marginal town of Cienfuegos, making no efforts to shield us from the dangers—and subtle joys—at the heart of its stories.

Booklist
Gala's raw, compelling, and highly readable novel lays bare a Cuba that, just like everywhere else, has not found an answer to human desperation, envy, or evil.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Award-winning Cuban writer and architect Gala links the fate of a community with the doomed construction of a cathedral in this dark, violent, often comic novel...A raucous, anguished, fast-paced story, tautly written and deeply rooted.

Author Blurb Eduardo Lalo, author of Uselessness
Marcial Galás magnificent The Black Cathedral is a chorus of unforgettable characters that linger in the ashes of Revolution and personal passions. This novel is the broken mirror in which modern Cuba is portrayed with unsettling humanity.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

A Brief History of Cienfuegos, Cuba

Cienfuegos, Cuba architectureThe Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala is set in a run-down neighborhood known as Punta Gotica in the real Cuban city of Cienfuegos, where an architecturally unique cathedral is planned for the Church of the Holy Sacrament. This may be all the more significant considering that Cienfuegos is known for its own particular brand of architecture and city planning, drawing notice for its neoclassical buildings and adherence to a rectangular grid structure. According to UNESCO, which considers the city's "urban historic centre" a World Heritage Site, Cienfuegos is "the first, and an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble representing the new ideas of modernity, hygiene and order in urban planning as developed in Latin America from the 19th ...

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