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Cuban-American Writer Carlos Aleman, Latecomer to Fiction, Talks Storytelling and Culture

First Posted: Aug 27, 2014 05:59 PM EDT
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Carlos Aleman

Photo : Carlos Aleman

In 1972, Cuban American writer Carlos Aleman left his birthplace of New York City and his non-English-speaking mother to move to Miami to live with his grandparents.

Francisco, Aleman's grandfather, who'd been held as a political prisoner in Cuba, made a trip to New York City after Aleman's father left him and his mother. Francisco invited Aleman to live with him and became like a father to him. While caring for Aleman, Francisco earned meager wages as a part-time security guard and worked hard to save so that Aleman could have whatever he might want or need, including a set of encyclopedias.

The set of encyclopedias was the present that helped to ignite Aleman's imagination, steering him toward becoming the first writer in his family. And his grandfather's giving nature encouraged Aleman to model one of his most iconic characters after his grandfather: Nuno. 

When Aleman writes, he begins with questions: regarding narrative, confusion, disillusionment, frustration, intention, influence and experience. His themes are often centered on longing for love, the ethereal quality of the human heart and men who worship the loving soul of a woman.

Neither didactic nor preachy, Aleman demonstrates this with the enchanting Gabriella and the title character in "Nuno." He proves it again with the hopeful and idealistic Ling and the intriguing Diego in "Happy That It's Not True" and "Diego in Two Places."

The blending of dreams, waking thoughts and beloved characters fills the pages of Aleman's books. And the dark humor, eroticism and sense of deep-seated longing are fluent and everflowing in the works.

However, Aleman didn't begin writing fiction until 2008, following a trip to Maui. The exploration of massive dormant volcanoes and amazing strewn trails, coupled with the consumption of "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," led Aleman to draft a story of his own.

So, he began writing. The initial manuscript changed from a "terrible" memoir to a work of fiction, morphed to the International Latino Book Award nominated "As Happy as Ling" and eventually became "Happy That It's Not True."

Authors Amy Tan, Haruki Murakami and Khaled Hosseini are writers that inspire the author. The writer admitted in an interview with Latin Post that he tends to be attracted to works produced by other children of immigrants. His work, like the work of those who he admires, captures culture and identity in a way that prompts readers to not only demand more from characters and authors but more from themselves as individuals with unique values and traits based on their own culture.   

"My culture is like a painter's palette ... or the hand of cards that I was dealt. I feel that I can legitimize my work by focusing specifically on my culture," Aleman told Latin Post. "My trilogy begins with pre-Revolutionary Cuba and examines the Cuban-American experience and then goes back and forth between the two."

"I try to filter everything I've ever heard or experienced from friends and relatives into stories of love and the search for meaning. I sometimes use a Kafkaesque spin and a little bit of dark humor so that the reader might see things in new and interesting ways. All of my characters remind me of people I have known of different races and ethnicities. Most have a little bit of me in them," Aleman said.

He admitted love for all his characters, saying that the host of interesting characters brought a smile to his face. He also shared that his favorite work to date is "Diego in Two Places," stating that the book connects lingering deas from the previous works, successfully completing the story that Aleman feels that he was "born to tell."

Next on Aleman's agenda is a coming-of-age story based in 1980, which will deal with a 15-year-old boy falling in love with an older girl. While the novel will touch on spirituality, love and eroticism, it will also deal with the dark past of the protagonist's father.

For more information on the painter, kokeshi doll maker and fiction writer, you can find him on Twitter. If you'd like to learn more about his trilogy, visit his website at carlosaleman.com

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