Thursday 23 November 2017

O'Connor follows Joyce to Havana

LIFE-CHANGING: Joseph O’Connor on ‘Star of the Sea’ Picture: Ronan Lang/Feature File
LIFE-CHANGING: Joseph O’Connor on ‘Star of the Sea’ Picture: Ronan Lang/Feature File
Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

It's half a century since the last Irish novel was published in Cuba - the rich multi-layered masterpiece that is James Joyce's Ulysses.

Now Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea, set against the backdrop of the famine and first published in 2004, will be launched in the Cuban capital of Havana.

Translated into Spanish, Star of the Sea becomes El Crimen Del Estrella de Mar and will be launched at the Havana Book Fair on Thursday in the presence of President Michael D Higgins.

Fittingly the event will take place in Sala Nicolas Guillen - named in honour of Cuba's national poet.

"I'm hugely touched to see Star of the Sea receive this amazing honour of being the first Irish novel for 50 years to be published in Cuba. For it to be launched here by President Higgins makes it an even more special and memorable occasion. It's delightful, too, to be in the company of that truly great Irish writer, Colm Toibin, whose work I admire and love so much, and also to be with the novelist Lisa McInerney whose debut novel I had the privilege of reviewing last year before it went on to deservedly win major awards," Joseph told the Sunday Independent.

The key theme of Star of the Sea, famine, will have an especially deep resonance in Cuba.

Cubans have painful and recent memory of catastrophic food shortages.

Between 1990 and 1995, in what is euphemistically referred to as the "special period", an economic collapse led to massive food shortages. Cubans lost an average of 5pc to 25pc of their bodyweight during that period.

Star of the Sea has been an international phenomenon selling more than 1m copies and published in 40 countries.

But the honour of being published in Cuba is a great thrill, the author admits.

"On the night before Christmas Eve, 15 years ago, I sat down at my desk and started to write. That's what I do most nights, and most nights the story doesn't work out.

"But that night, the story I started to write turned out to be Star of the Sea, a book that would change my life.

"I wrote the book for my beloved wife Anne-Marie and our children, James and Marcus, to whom I owe so much personal happiness.

"I wanted to write something that would last, as a way of thanking and honouring them.

"The book was lucky enough to find many friends around the time it was launched, none more loyal and supportive than the Sunday Independent's literary editor, Madeleine Keane, who did so much to help it and who shortlisted it for the Sunday Independent Novel of the Year Award that year.

"I am also immensely grateful to my colleagues and my creative writing students at the University of Limerick, from whom I learn so much every day," he said.

Sunday Independent

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