The second of five brothers, Ernesto Mestre-Reed was born in 1964 in Guantánamo, a city in Oriente, Cuba’s easternmost province. He was brought up in a close-knit family, who left Cuba in 1972 for Spain before finally establishing their residence in Florida. There Mestre-Reed attended Miami’s Marist-run Christopher Columbus High School, where he became a voracious reader. He later received a BA in English Literature from Tulane University before settling in New York. He has taught writing at Sarah Lawrence College since 1999.
Like Mestre-Reed’s first novel (The Lazarus Rumba), The Second Death of Única Aveyano reflects his interest in the complexities of his native and adoptive countries. Asked if he thinks of himself as a Cuban author who writes in English or a U.S. author who writes about Cuban issues, Mestre-Reed replies, “I definitely consider myself a Cuban writer who writes in English. That other option—‘an American writer writing about Cuban issues’—sounds so foreign to me. I guess that someday I will write a novel or a story that has little if anything to do with Cuba, but that doesn’t mean I'll be any less a Cuban writer. When you’re raised Cuban and Catholic, you remain both for life, at least in spirit.”
Ernesto Mestre-Reed is the recipient of a 2004 Guggenheim Fellowship.
Must-read writing by Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i, faculty and students. This issue: the opening chapter from The Second Death of Única Aveyano, a novel by writing faculty member Ernesto Mestre-Reed. Única begins on an April night, when the eponymous heroine, an elderly Cuban woman, sneaks out of her Miami nursing home and wanders toward the sea. She leaves behind her husband, a devoted nurse, family solicitude, and images of a little boy named Elián Gonzalez which dominate the news.
SHE RECITES THE NAMES OF STREETS.
There is Cranberry and Orange and Pineapple, she says.
And she climbs their steep slopes to the wrought-iron benches on the promenade.
Maybe someday she can hold her grandson’s head in her lap again, brush his lambswool hair as he falls asleep in the afternoon, like she did in the courtyard of their house in Cuba, and years later, in the little concrete patio outside their cramped apartment on Meridian Street.
There is Poplar and Willow and Vine, she says.
And in the park under the overpass some whispery aspens and leafy cottonwoods that she will not see bloom.
He used to let his hair grow long just for that—so that she could untangle it with her brush and with the ends of her fingers. He hid under her long skirts when his mother chased him, snipping her giant metallic shears in the air like a mad sheepwoman.
There is Love and Grace, she says.
And she follows each to its end, crumbling brick walls meshed in ivy. El culo del saco, se lo comió Paco.
She picked living things out of her grandson’s hair as if she were digging memories out of his skull. A brown beetle to forget his father. A wingless moth to forget his homeland.
There is Pearl and Water, she says.
And a desolate beach that hides under the Brooklyn Bridge, which will not fall down, will not fall down.
He fell from the boat, from the overcrowded boat. His long hair floated on the olive sea like a clump of Sargasso weed. He fell from the boat and her husband fell over after him.
There is Montague, she says.
But no Capulet.
From The Second Death of Única Aveyano by Ernesto Mestre-Reed, Vintage Books, 2004.