Day 7: 🇨🇺 Havana Year Zero

After reading two brilliant books from Charco Press last summer: The German Room by Carla Maliandi ( tr. Frances Riddle) and Holiday Heart by Margarita García Robayo (tr. Charlotte Coombe). I decided to subscribe to their 2021 bundle. Charco Press is a small indie publisher, based in Edinburgh, that brings Latin American contemporary writers to an English reading audience for the first time. Charco Press will soon be publishing some of these books in Spanish too.

In a Nutshell:

I tried reading this book a few months ago and I clearly wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read it. I tried it again on a Sunday and finished it on a Wednesday. A brilliant book.

Julia is the main character who sets on a quest to prove that the telephone was actually invented by an Italian inventor, in Havana, Cuba. Her life intertwines with a whole host of characters: Ángel, Leonardo, Euclid, Barbara and Margarita. Who will solve the puzzle and who will seek to trick her? Read and find out. The beginning, middle and ending of the novel won’t disappoint.


Part detective story, part musings of a mathematician, part comedy of errors-esque story and part historical novel, set during one of Cuba’s toughest periods, it is very evocative of Havana.


I found the section on mathematical/scientific therorems a bit too detailed for me but that is only for a few pages and the narrative style of the book always draws you back in.

I found there were a couple of translations that didn’t quite work in English, “do you get me” for example but they didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book, in fact they added to it.

I learnt my Spanish in Chile and there “una guagua” is a baby/child whereas in Cuba (and other Caribbean countries), I discovered it is a bus. This word was left in Spanish in the book which I loved.

Havana Year Zero won the following prizes: the Prix Carbet of the Caribbean and Tout-Monde and the Insular Book Prize. It is Suarez’s third novel and the first to be translated into English.


“Leonardo was one of those people who need no encouragement to talk; in fact his words seemed to be permanently stationed just outside the door, waiting for a moment of carelessness to barge in.”

“I’ve always been a second-generation veggie, by which I mean that the cow eats the grass and I eat the cow, but at that time cows were only to be found in the same place as dinosaur books.”


Want to read Havana Year Zero? Buy it here.

Havana Year Zero

Written by Karla Suárez

Translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

23/02/2021, Charco Press

ISBN: 9781913867003

#WITMonth for 2021 is curated by Jess Andoh-Thayre

I am 35, from London but currently living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have lived in Tanzania, Chile, Spain and now Cambodia. I am married to a diplomat and we have been posted in Dar es Salaam and now Cambodia. Prior to meeting my husband, I had also lived in La Serena, Chile and Madrid, Spain.

I am a French, Spanish and English teacher, translator, avid reader and now blogger. When I am not teaching, reading and blogging, I love seeing a brilliant sunset, swimming and hanging out with my husband and son.

Writer: Karla Suárez

Karla Suárez was born in Havana in 1969. She studied classical guitar and has a degree in electronic engineering. Suárez is the author of three collections of short stories and four novels. Many of her stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines published in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. In 2007, she was selected by the Hay Festival as one of the Bogotá39 writers, which groups together the best Latin American authors under the age of 40. Havana Year Zero (2011) is her third novel and has obtained the Prix Carbet of the Caribbean and Tout-Monde and the Insular Book Prize, both in France. It is her first book to be published in English.

Translator: Christina MacSweeney

Christina MacSweeney is a literary translator who usually translates Latin American fiction from Spanish into English.  She received the 2016 Valle Inclan prize for her translation of Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth, and Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña París was a finalist in the 2017 Best Translated Book Award. Among the other authors she has translated are: Elvira Navarro (A Working Woman), Verónica Gerber Bicecci (Empty Set, Palabras migrantes/Migrant Words), and Julián Herbert (Tomb Song, The House of the Pain of Others).

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