Adios, Happy Homeland!
 Ana Menéndez
Grove Press
Adios, Happy Homeland! Ana Menéndez Grove Press Dh45

Adios, Happy Homeland!: a braid of the subjective and objective

Whatever primacy the idea of self-expatriation enjoys in the American imagination - the writer as nomad; an entire generation's artistic escapade in interwar Paris; the recent rise of Berlin as a magnet for Americans of a creative bent - the literature of immigration has proven, in American letters, to be just as fertile.

The American emigrant, is usually white, affluent, neurotic and male, while the literature of non-natives writing and working in America encompasses works as stylistically diverse as the hyperviolent words of the Yiddish writer Lamed Shapiro, the introspective novels of Jamaica Kincaid, and the intricate fictions of Aleksandr Hemon.

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The displaced, the stateless and the persecuted have played a role as significant in America's aesthetic life as any gilded expat; one wonders how it could be otherwise in a nation where the question of national identity is as open as it is vexed - and as political.

This has, sadly, led at times to the fetishisation of such writers, a critical evaluation of them far above their actual talent (consider the novelists Uzodinme Iweala and Junot Diaz). But such failures of judgement constitute a small price to pay for a literature immeasurably enriched by the contributions of the displaced.

Ana Menéndez, a journalist and novelist born in Los Angeles and raised in Florida by exiled Cuban parents, stands as close to these questions as any other writer working in English today; unlike many of her colleagues, however, she possesses a significant talent in addition to a politically interesting ethnicity.

Her work deals quite explicitly with her heritage - her previous works, a short story collection called In Cuba I was a German Shepherd and her first novel, Loving Che, demonstrate a sophisticated awareness both of the historical past and her private one. Her newest book, Adios, Happy Homeland!, displays this same sophistication and awareness, although they are put to a different literary use. The book purports to be a collection of short stories, poems, fragmentary texts (including emails between the book's editor and its poet contributors and an astrological chart) all created by a group of wholly fictitious Cuban writers and all dealing, some in subtle and some in very literal ways, with flight and escape. These are collected and published under the auspices of the equally fictitious Herberto Quain (readers of Borges will recognise this name at once), an Irish emigrant turned librarian in pre-revolution Havana who has never since left his adopted nation.

While this may sound like yet another example of the leaden methodological obsessions that characterise so much of contemporary writing in English - David Mitchell and Tom McCarthy, Jonathan Safran Foer and Benjamin Hale - Menéndez's book is far closer in spirit and substance to Roberto Bolaño's magnificent Nazi Literature in the Americas.

Adios, Happy Homeland! is as bold in its execution as in its conception. Menéndez tries, to dazzling effect, to endow each of her notional writers with a distinct voice, a separate diction, a discrete vision of the world. From the oblique and unsettling first tale in the collection, Celestino d'Alba's You Are the Heir Of All My Terrors to a deeply satirical take on anti-Castro political organisations in Miami entitled The Boy Who Was Rescued by a Fish, narrated by the hilariously inept embezzler Teresa de la Landre; from the Glossary of Caribbean Winds of Vietor Fuka, which is more or less exactly what its title describes, to the sharply observed psychological drama of Jane Smith's Three Betrayals, Menéndez's novel contains, so to speak, multitudes.

It is rare enough for an American writer to muster the energy to construct such an intricate work; it is unthinkably rarer for such formal intricacies to serve some aesthetic or philosophical purpose beyond themselves. But this is precisely the case with Adios, Happy Homeland!. Menéndez's fictions are never content merely to display their finely wrought strangeness. Almost every text "collected" here would, considered on its own, outshine in comparison the majority of American short fiction (there are a few false notes, however); taken together, the effect is vertiginously powerful. Images of escape, of flights and journeys both physical and metaphysical, brighten and darken all the stories here.

The aforementioned You Are the Heir of All My Terrors takes place in a nightmarishly banal railway station, which we shall, it is implied, revisit in the book's final story, The Shunting Trains Trace Iron Labyrinths; Menéndez presents, as a delicate counterweight to the Glossary of Caribbean Winds, the haunting, surreal In Defense of Flying, by a woman named Carla Glades who, despite the puritanical fears of her parents and friends, continues to fly unaided by any machinery: "Of all the arguments against regular flying that I have to endure, the one that really makes me angry is the appeal to moderation. People ask, Must you fly everyday? My own mother used to scold me, warning me about a need for balance and suggesting I might be addicted."

And the corrupt and ridiculous women of The Boy Who Was Rescued by a Fish find a strange vindication in The Boy's Triumphant Return, a terrifyingly accurate piece of notional agitprop dealing with the titular boy (strongly implied to be Elian Gonzalez) and his return to the shores of his well-policed homeland:

It is necessary to continue, without losing one moment, without giving space to fatigue, until we eliminate the causes that gave rise to this tragedy ... that is the only thing that will succeed in devastating the criminal migratory policies that have been deliberately constructed to destabilise and undermine Cuban society, cynically calculated to provoke deaths and suffering, shamelessly manipulating the tragedies occasioned by this law.

And so, by means natural and supernatural, through ambiguities, recursions, and divagations, Menéndez illuminates the uncertain path of the culturally-amphibious writer, and by the same token the internal difficulties of literature itself. In less gifted hands - in the hands, sad to say, of most other American writers - Adios, Happy Homeland! would have amounted to little more than a polemical, strained allegory.

Menéndez scrupulously avoids any such overt political preaching, and (perhaps more importantly) allows the metaphorical overtones of her subject to remain just those: overtones. The Boy's Triumphant Return, for example, uses the frightful and anonymous language of the totalitarian state throughout, a language bereft of any historical context (other than that context supplied, as is inevitable, by the reader). In so doing the story elevates the forced repatriation of this nameless boy to a far higher plane than journalistic realism would.

The arrivals and departures of trains in the book's initial and final stories carry with them a vast array of resonances, from iconic scenes of European fascism to the more recent, and less reified, violent autocracies of the right and left in Central and South America, but Menéndez makes none of these explicit.

Unconstrained by specified historical concerns, then, the opening and closing of this remarkable book extend far beyond themselves, and into the realm of pure literary possibility. Menéndez ends her books, as noted above, on a train, as the last of her fictional narrators, with whom she happens to share a name, reflects on the circularity of flight and the instability of identity: "We were only passing through a wilderness of mirrors, startling ourselves on the way back to the beginning."

The last pages of the book, after this lyrical statement, are given over to a pseudo-index purporting to list the names and brief biographies of the book's contributors. That contrast - between the lyrically personal and the pseudofactual - illuminates precisely the source of the book's power, an effortless, balletic braiding of the subjective and the objective. Menéndez's "wilderness of mirrors" might refer to history or to art itself, but we should be grateful that she never punctures this final mystery.

Sam Munson is a regular contributor to The Review.

Green ambitions
  • Trees: 1,500 to be planted, replacing 300 felled ones, with veteran oaks protected
  • Lake: Brown's centrepiece to be cleaned of silt that makes it as shallow as 2.5cm
  • Biodiversity: Bat cave to be added and habitats designed for kingfishers and little grebes
  • Flood risk: Longer grass, deeper lake, restored ponds and absorbent paths all meant to siphon off water 

Developer: SCE Studio Cambridge
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Console: PlayStation, PlayStation 4 and 5
Rating: 3.5/5

Key findings
  • Over a period of seven years, a team of scientists analysed dietary data from 50,000 North American adults.
  • Eating one or two meals a day was associated with a relative decrease in BMI, compared with three meals. Snacks count as a meal. Likewise, participants who ate more than three meals a day experienced an increase in BMI: the more meals a day, the greater the increase.
  • People who ate breakfast experienced a relative decrease in their BMI compared with “breakfast-skippers”.
  • Those who turned the eating day on its head to make breakfast the biggest meal of the day, did even better.
  • But scrapping dinner altogether gave the best results. The study found that the BMI of subjects who had a long overnight fast (of 18 hours or more) decreased when compared even with those who had a medium overnight fast, of between 12 and 17 hours.

Know your camel milk:
Flavour: Similar to goat’s milk, although less pungent. Vaguely sweet with a subtle, salty aftertaste.
Texture: Smooth and creamy, with a slightly thinner consistency than cow’s milk.
Use it: In your morning coffee, to add flavour to homemade ice cream and milk-heavy desserts, smoothies, spiced camel-milk hot chocolate.
Goes well with: chocolate and caramel, saffron, cardamom and cloves. Also works well with honey and dates.

Afro salons

For women:
Sisu Hair Salon, Jumeirah 1, Dubai
Boho Salon, Al Barsha South, Dubai
Moonlight, Al Falah Street, Abu Dhabi
For men:
MK Barbershop, Dar Al Wasl Mall, Dubai
Regency Saloon, Al Zahiyah, Abu Dhabi
Uptown Barbershop, Al Nasseriya, Sharjah

Mercer, the investment consulting arm of US services company Marsh & McLennan, expects its wealth division to at least double its assets under management (AUM) in the Middle East as wealth in the region continues to grow despite economic headwinds, a company official said.

Mercer Wealth, which globally has $160 billion in AUM, plans to boost its AUM in the region to $2-$3bn in the next 2-3 years from the present $1bn, said Yasir AbuShaban, a Dubai-based principal with Mercer Wealth.

Within the next two to three years, we are looking at reaching $2 to $3 billion as a conservative estimate and we do see an opportunity to do so,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Mercer does not directly make investments, but allocates clients’ money they have discretion to, to professional asset managers. They also provide advice to clients.

“We have buying power. We can negotiate on their (client’s) behalf with asset managers to provide them lower fees than they otherwise would have to get on their own,” he added.

Mercer Wealth’s clients include sovereign wealth funds, family offices, and insurance companies among others.

From its office in Dubai, Mercer also looks after Africa, India and Turkey, where they also see opportunity for growth.

Wealth creation in Middle East and Africa (MEA) grew 8.5 per cent to $8.1 trillion last year from $7.5tn in 2015, higher than last year’s global average of 6 per cent and the second-highest growth in a region after Asia-Pacific which grew 9.9 per cent, according to consultancy Boston Consulting Group (BCG). In the region, where wealth grew just 1.9 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014, a pickup in oil prices has helped in wealth generation.

BCG is forecasting MEA wealth will rise to $12tn by 2021, growing at an annual average of 8 per cent.

Drivers of wealth generation in the region will be split evenly between new wealth creation and growth of performance of existing assets, according to BCG.

Another general trend in the region is clients’ looking for a comprehensive approach to investing, according to Mr AbuShaban.

“Institutional investors or some of the families are seeing a slowdown in the available capital they have to invest and in that sense they are looking at optimizing the way they manage their portfolios and making sure they are not investing haphazardly and different parts of their investment are working together,” said Mr AbuShaban.

Some clients also have a higher appetite for risk, given the low interest-rate environment that does not provide enough yield for some institutional investors. These clients are keen to invest in illiquid assets, such as private equity and infrastructure.

“What we have seen is a desire for higher returns in what has been a low-return environment specifically in various fixed income or bonds,” he said.

“In this environment, we have seen a de facto increase in the risk that clients are taking in things like illiquid investments, private equity investments, infrastructure and private debt, those kind of investments were higher illiquidity results in incrementally higher returns.”

The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, one of the largest sovereign wealth funds, said in its 2016 report that has gradually increased its exposure in direct private equity and private credit transactions, mainly in Asian markets and especially in China and India. The authority’s private equity department focused on structured equities owing to “their defensive characteristics.”

Race card

6pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 – Group 1 (PA) $50,000 (Dirt) 1,600m
6.35pm: Dubai Racing Club Classic – Handicap (TB) $100,000 (D) 2,410m
7.10pm: Dubawi Stakes – Group 3 (TB) $150,000 (D) 1,200m
7.45pm: Jumeirah Classic Trial – Conditions (TB) $150,000 (Turf) 1,400m
8.20pm: Al Maktoum Challenge Round 1 – Group 2 (TB) $250,000 (D) 1,600m
8.55pm: Al Fahidi Fort – Group 2 (TB) $180,000 (T) 1,400m
9.30pm: Ertijaal Dubai Dash – Listed (TB) $100,000 (T) 1,000m

The Arts Edit

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