The unforgettable Pole who was born in Cuba

The unforgettable Pole who was born in Cuba
The unforgettable Pole who was born in Cuba

He was a gentleman in the highest meaning of the word: elegant without discordance, courteous without excess, circumspect without pomp, cultured without exaggeration, jovial without stridency, loquacious without disarray… A Creole well established in a Cuban country open to the four cardinal points, with a life full of adventures and experiences; a professional journalist, a talented writer—his novels and his testimonial books confirm this—; a generous friend: his name was Jaime Sarusky Miller, also Jimmy or The Pole for his affections.

Son of emigrants who came to Cuba from deep Poland in the second decade of the 20th century, of Jewish ancestry on both sides, mother and father – their surnames do not admit the slightest contradiction – Jaime – that is what I always called him – was born in Havana on January 3, 1931, where he died on August 29, 2013. In the fifties, he would study French Literature and Sociology of Art at the Sorbonne University, and there in Paris, in the heat of that language, he had an exemplary ancestry of experiences and readings.

Among the first, how significant would the most dissimilar encounters be for the inexperienced student and reporter; His recollections of those times—told in great detail, not infrequently with humor as calm as it was comforting—allowed him to accompany him again on the afternoon when he met Albert Camus in a bookstore, his classes with Michel Butor and Roland Barthes, his attendance at Gaston Bachelard’s lectures, his interview with Ingrid Bergman, or his knowledge of French cinema and its great directors.

In an interview with him in 2001, upon winning the Alejo Carpentier Novel Award with A providential man, he would confess to me: “First of all, I was influenced by Flaubert, an artisan of writing, who lived as such body and soul, always searching, to the point of exhaustion, for precise terms. And Stendhal, with Red and Black and The Charterhouse of Parma; By the way, when I was in Parma, the tower where he was imprisoned, Fabrizio, his main character, no longer existed… However, he will continue to exist in that wonderful novel.

Such encouragement of French learning when it comes to narrating is explicit in his first novel, The search (1961), the story of Anselmo, a flutist in a popular music group, who longs to leave it to join a classical music orchestra – the “Máximo Centro” -; However, the obstacles—the marginal neighborhood where he lives, the incomprehension and hostility of his neighbors—lead him to a path of self-destruction; Jean Paul Sartre’s exergue is defining: “Once upon a time there lived a poor guy who had found himself in the wrong world.”

Rebellion in the 8th house (1967), his second novel, a display of expressive restraint and veiled suspicion, carried out very effectively, which leads to the meeting of Oscar and Agustín, in the Havana days fraught with violence, under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, with an astrologer, Petronila Ferro. , is a plot that, in the words of Alejo Carpentier, “has danger as its protagonist; danger, for two revolutionaries, of what the street means; but also danger, indefinite, mysterious, strange, astral…”.

This is how Jaime told me about the process of creating those novels: “In my beginnings, with The searchhad the insecurity typical of someone who is entering unknown territory, while Rebellion in the 8th house “It was a different experience.” Exactly: between one and the other not only the years that go from the training of the young writer, to the powers of the one who already enters with the right into the frameworks of fiction, but also the ways of another area that his writing occupies: the journalist’s exercise.

Far beyond the reporting, from the domains of testimony, a literary genre that gained notoriety from 1957 when an inaugural title was published in Buenos Aires, Massacre operationby Rodolfo Walsh—long before Truman Capote published his “nonfiction novel” Cold-blooded in 1966—, Jaime Sarusky inscribes his name in the most notable of that discipline in a Cuban key, with two books that combine application and enjoyment: The ghosts of Omaja (1986) and The adventure of the Swedes in Cuba (1999).

It was the illustrious Manuel Moreno Fraginals, maker of The wit, who put it best: “The issue of migration is very important for Cuba (…) But Sarusky is not a demographer. He knows the great importance of man/figure, but his interest is man/culture. That is to say, he looks for those who came to this land, expelled for political reasons, social hardships or economic suffocation, and came with their burden of frustrations and hopes, and generally an indomitable energy, to found and establish themselves.

Also enduring are his pages dedicated to high-quality interviews and reports, especially during his long years in the magazine Revolución y Cultura; texts of his that collect very relevant plots of Cuban plastic arts and music – it is also worth remembering his book The Unicorn and other inventions—, constitute an invaluable source for knowledge of cardinal works and authors, apart from their very detailed works on Holguín writers and artists at the time of their founding.

His third and last novel—undoubtedly his greatest piece in that order—, A providential manis the well-documented and refined story of a 19th century North American adventurer, William Walker, determined to turn Nicaragua and its surrounding territories against all odds into an immense slave state—it is worth remembering the Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo, director of The Battle of Algierswith his very particular version of the character in Queimada (1969), played by the great Marlon Brando.

Jaime told me that he had proposed to “make history from fiction, without necessarily implying leaving aside historical events, and inserting fictional characters into the latter. (…) For several years I was reading everything related to William Walker, Nicaraguan and North American historians. My goal was a literally believable character and not the caricature of just another scoundrel. (…) The novel became increasingly complex in the construction of its plot.”

It is worth remembering the keys to his work in his own words: “In the novel you are forced to have a much more modest attitude, always behind the narrator, while in journalism absolute opinion weighs a lot. The novelist is someone who disappears, while the journalist is always on the scene, he constantly appears. Thus, among the shadows with his fictions, under the constant illumination of his chronicles and reports, Jaime Sarusky, the unforgettable Pole who was born in Cuba, will always remain among us.

Writer and editor at the Ediciones Holguín label. Among his titles are: El Sabor del Instante, (Ediciones Holguín, 2016) and Romeo y Julieta en Manhattan (Ediciones La Luz, Holguín, 2022). His most recent book is “Of the Dawn, The Rain and the Time” (Poetic Anthology, Ediciones Holguín, 2024). He is a regular contributor to Cuban cultural magazines.

Eugenio Marrón Casanova

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