Can you talk about the genesis of Here in Berlin?

The idea began as an inquiry into the human fallout from Cuba’s long association with the Soviet bloc. I wanted to find the interesting stories from this globalism—the relationships and children, complications and dislocations—that always accompany political upheaval.

 

Was Berlin your only, or primary, destination?

Originally, I thought of doing a book in three or four parts with stories set in Berlin, in Chile, in Vietnam, and Angola—all places where Cubans have studied, were politically involved, or fought wars. Berlin was my second stop, after Chile, and I couldn’t get enough of the city. I knew pretty quickly that it was where the whole novel would be set.

PROLOGUE

Lilacs were blooming in Cracauerplatz. The Visitor felt disoriented and alone, an outsider, lost without a map. Her atrophied German stuck in her throat. Thirty-one years had elapsed between her last stay in Germany (for an ill-fated job in Frankfurt) and her return to Berlin in late middle age. The city struck her as post-apocalyptic—flat and featureless except for its rivers, its lakes, its legions of bicyclists. She found herself nameless: nameless in crowds, nameless alone. Another disappearance in a city with a long history of disappearance acts.

SUNDAY

But I have in me all the dreams in the world.

–Fernando Pessoa

Room 719

The lady matador stands naked before the armoire mirror and unrolls her long pink stockings. She likes to put these on first, before the fitted pants and the stark white shirt, before the bullioned waistcoat and the ribs-length jacket densely embroidered with sequins and beads; before the braces, and the soft black slippers, and the wisp of silk at her throat; before the montera, an authentic one she ordered from a bullfighters’ shop in Madrid, which sits atop her hair, pulled back in a single braid; before her cape, voluminous as a colony of bats.

Okay, so what’s up with all the ghosts in your work?

I like playing along the borderlines of what’s remotely possible.