José Manuel Prieto

Portrait José Manuel Prieto
© Ali Ghandtschi

José Manuel Prieto was born in Havana in 1962. At the age of 19, he graduated from school and then left Cuba to study electrical engineering in Novosibirsk. With a degree in engineering in his pocket, he returned to Havana, however only for one and a half years. He felt he had to go back to Siberia, where he stayed in a little village for two years, and worked in a telecommunications plant. He spent the Perestroika years with his wife in St. Petersburg.

His first collection of short stories, »Nunca antes habías visto el rojo« (tr.: You never saw the red) was published in Cuba in 1996. His debut novel »Enciclopedia de una vida en Rusia« (tr.: Encyclopedia of a life in Russia) appeared in Mexico in 1998. An excerpt of it was included in the German anthology »Cubanísimo. Junge Erzähler aus Kuba« (2000; tr.: Cubanísimo. Young narrators from Cuba). His second novel »Livadia« (1999; en. »Nocturnal Butterflies of the Russian Empire«, 2000) has been translated into seven languages. Literary critics praised the book as a true discovery. Not only because of the smart, interlinear network of literary references, which cross the narrative structure in an extraordinary way and remind the reader of Nabokov’s thought flashes, but also because of his intelligent swan song to the days of Communism, a fascinating feature in the Russian-Cuban constellation, which has shaped Prieto’s migrant life. The novel is about a Cuban smuggler who has been quite successful in a Soviet Union that is falling apart. He plans the last great coup of his career: he wants to smuggle a woman and her soul from a nightclub in Istanbul to Russia. Prieto published his second collection of short stories in Mexico: »El tartamudo y la rusa« (tr.: The Stutterer and the Russian) was published in 2002. Barcelona saw the light of his first travelogue »Treinta días en Moscú« (tr.: Thirty days in Moscow). »Rex« (2007; eng. 2010) is a novel about a Cuban private teacher, who begins to uncover the family secrets of his rich Russian employers. In »La revolución cubana explicada a los taxistas« (2008; tr.: The Cuban Revolution explained to a taxi driver) Prieto gives his very own and current version of the history of Cuba.

José Manuel Prieto has translated many Russian works into Spanish, including poems by Gennadij Ajgi, Anna Achmatowa and Josef Brodsky, and prose by Andrej Platonov, Viktor Pelevin and Vladimir Nabokov. Prieto is an expert in the Russian history of literature, whose artistic achievements he discusses in a transcultural dialogue with the creativity of Latin American literature. He has published articles on Russia, Cuba, politics, and literature in »The Nation«, »The New York Review of Books« and »The Paris Review«. He has been a Fellow at The New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Jose Manuel Prieto taught at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económica (CIDE) in Mexico City, Cornell University as a visiting professor, and at Princeton University as a distinguished lecturer. He teaches at Seton Hall University. Prieto is currently a guest of the DAAD Artists’ Programme in Berlin.