Melanie Furlong-Riesgo was born in 1971 and grew up in Nova Scotia, British Columbia and Ontario, Canada. After graduating from Acadia University with a major in Spanish, she completed a B.Ed T.E.S.L. at Brock University. She taught English in the Czech Republic for three years and met her Cuban-born husband there. They now live in Nova Scotia with their two beautiful children. Melanie has been writing for various publications since 2001. The Last Honest Man in Havana is her first novel.
1. What inspired you to write The Last Honest Man in Havana?
I wrote in an effort to truly understand the way my Cuban-born husband, Roberto, grew up and how Castro's reign has affected his family and everyone around them.
I met Roberto in the Czech Republic in 1996. I was a young Canadian English teacher working in Prague and he had just arrived from Cuba. We had a whirlwind romance and married the next year. I knew my husband left Cuba because he had no freedom. But it took me a very long time to realize what that meant.
Although Roberto was not a member of the Communist Party, the question I wanted to answer with this novel was: how did someone who believed so strongly in Fidel Castro and the Communist Party, someone who'd been indoctrinated since he was a child, finally realize that Cuba's system would never work?
2. What are some of the issues and themes that you explore in your book?
The primary issue is freedom. Some themes include the effect of Communism on the individual, patriotism and self-reliance.
3. What was the development process like?
This was quite a long process that began with me writing a short story about my main character, Rafael, in 2008. The next year, I was lucky to win a spot in a mentorship program through the Writers' Federation of Nova Scotia. When that finished in 2010, I joined a group of local writers and kept working on my drafts for the next four years.
4. What was the hardest part about writing this book?
This is my first novel so I have to say all aspects of it were somewhat challenging. But perhaps the hardest part was doing research in Cuba in 2010 with Roberto.
We hired a driver take us to the funeral home at Calzada y K, the Colón cemetery, to visit a santera's place, the Canadian embassy and more. On the third or fourth day, when our driver and I were alone in the car he started asking me what I was up to—admittedly it was a strange list of places to visit—and, because he was so nice, I told him.
That was my mistake. I wasn't supposed to tell anyone what I was doing there because writers need official permission to work in the country. The driver dropped us off that night and never came back the next day. That was frustrating. I'm terrible at being sneaky. I guess I'm lucky he didn't report me.
5. What do you hope readers will gain from your book?
I want my readers to get an understanding of what life was like for average Havanans during the country's Special Period. They should also get an idea of what it means to grow up under a dictatorship and how the corruption that comes out of those tight controls affects everything from family life and social infrastructure to work and morals.
6. What do you like best and what do you like least about being a writer?
My favourite part is the excitement that comes with an initial idea for a piece or a character. What I like least is going back to my original rough drafts and realizing how much work they need.
7. Who are some of your favorite authors?
David Bezmozgis, Carlos Ruíz Zafón, Yann Martel and Isabel Allende.
8. If your book would be turned into a movie, who would you imagine playing the part of the main character? (Actor can be ANYONE, living or dead.)
Cuban actor William Levy.
9. Are you working on anything right now?
Yes, I am mid-way through the first draft of one project and another is in research stages.
10. And, finally, what do you think is in store for the future of Latino literature?
I think the future of Latino literature is incredibly exciting. Latinos are a varied people and as more continue to come to the U.S. and Canada from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and other countries, they will be the source of a rich and vast literary pool.
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