Cecilia Valdes or El Angel Hill
by Cirilo Villaverde
For those of you itching to go to Cuba, or if you have already been one of the lucky travelers to have been there, here is an absorbing novel on 19th century Cuba. The novel is set in Havana during the 1830’s, a time of Spanish rule. Although a bit melodramatic here and there (it was written in the 1800’s), Cecilia Valdes allows us to see the life of the various classes of society, mainly based on racial differences. There are unforgettable scenes of slave life; the author was certainly strongly against slavery. The reader begins to understand how devastating the slave trade and colonialism were for Cuba, and what this meant in terms of the intermixture of people and cultures. In this novel we walk through the streets of 19th century Havana, visit the great Spanish casas and sugar cane ranches, some of which I’m sure are still there. I was amazed by all the beautiful detail throughout the book. Cecilia Valdes is described by many literati as the most important novel of 19th century Cuba.
“Cecilia … is, truly, as many critics have pointed out ‘the exquisite fresco of the 19th century Cuban society.’” – Joanna Castillo, Havana Streetview
… “The hospital of San Juan de Dios, which gives the narrow street its name, and which always allows the warm breath of its patients to escape through its tall square windows, occupies all one side of the second block, and the three other sides are occupied by little houses with red Spanish roof tiles and only one story high, the last houses in particular being above street level, with either one or two stone steps at the door. The best looking of the little dwellings were those in the first block as one entered the street by way of the Calle de Compostela. They were all more or less the same size, each with only one window and door, the latter made of cedar painted brickred with large-headed studs and the former with mirrored glass or set in a simple molding and closed off with thick wooden balustrades. The pavement of the street was in its original and natural state, made of cobblestones and without sidewalks.x…xThe unknown gentleman, hugging the walls beneath the projecting eaves of Spanish tiles, stopped at the door of the third little house on his right and tapped twice on it with the tips of his fingers.” – Cecilia Valdes or El Angel Hill, Oxford University Press, 2005 edition.