The 'Iliad' sells more than Fidel Castro or Che in the new Alma Mater bookstore

The ‘Iliad’ sells more than Fidel Castro or Che in the new Alma Mater bookstore

The best-selling book in the recently reopened Alma Mater bookstore in Havana is not capital nor any title of Marta Harnecker, but the Iliad, of Homer.

Located in a small corner of the premises, where most of the clientele gathered this Monday, the Greek classic was together with other greats of literature, such as Papa Gorioth, of Honoré de Balzac, or Bernarda Alba’s house, by Federico Garcia Lorca.

“Oh, but how has this book sold!” Said the shop assistant to one of the young men who was carrying a copy of the Iliad under his arm. “It is that outside of that, there is very little of interest”, confessed the client.

The price of these international titles, between 10 and 15 pesos, also favored their purchase, despite the fact that their edition is of very poor quality. “The other propaganda books have a more elaborate cover, and even then nobody buys them,” joked another buyer, in his 50s.

“The other propaganda books have a more elaborate cover, and even then nobody buys them,” joked another buyer, in his 50s.

In the rest of the shelves, “educational texts” multiply, with the words “Che” or “Fidel” on their spines. “They do not have The Golden Age?”, Another young woman in her twenties asked about the title of José Martí. “We don’t have it yet but we are going to have it, at the end of the month or the beginning of March,” assured the saleswoman.

The bookstore, located on the corner of Infanta and San Lázaro, was reopened this sunday, after being closed and under construction for more than a year. A chronic clogging problem, linked to the flow of sewage from the upper floors of the building, had flooded the basement and affected the structure.

Alma Mater, which owes its name to its proximity to La Colina university, has in recent years also been a navigation room through the national intranet and a hall for official events. However, for taxi drivers and those over 70, those glass windows that serve as a reference to so many are still called in the old way: Lamps Quesada, the private business located in the place before 1959.

On the afternoon of January 27, shortly before a crowd passed by that place as part of the official March of the Torches, the residents of the area murmured that the opening was imminent and was destined to please the eyes of Miguel Díaz- Canel and Raúl Castro, both in the front row of the parade.

She couldn’t even be ready for the occasion. She barely had time to create a set of furniture and lights. “What they did was put some furniture in the middle of the living room, to make it appear that there was something, because there was nothing else,” says a local resident sarcastically. “If the appointed I would arrive or look through the glass when I passed by”.

During the reopening event, this Sunday, with the presence of several Communist Party officials and academic authorities, it was announced that 186 titles, 36 issues of academic journals and 300,000 copies of more than 22 Cuban publishers are for sale at the store.

Amanda García Roche, director of Academic Publications and of the Editorial University of Havana (UH), which manages the bookstore, praised the “reunion with a space that we all profess much love for and missed” and assured that it “reopens completely restored”, although the haste to meet a date raises fears that this may not be the case.

“Here they have given a few coats of paint, fixed the lights and started selling but we have doubts about how long it will last until the shit comes out under the door again”

The act, full of solemnity, included several speeches, dozens of chairs placed in the nearby Parque de los Mártires and a security operation that left the residents of the neighborhood without the possibility of buying “not even a button” in the informal market until that the enchanted visitors left. The cutting of a white ribbon sealed the umpteenth reopening of the premises.

“Here they have given a few coats of paint, fixed the lights and started selling, but we have doubts about how long it will last until the shit comes out from under the door again,” questions a neighbor who lives on the heights of the nearby Post Office of Cuba and that passes every day in front of the bookstore.

The furniture that has been placed in the spacious living room seems to be a prop. “They are like the ones used in some television programs,” a young man who came to review the titles for sale ironized this Monday. The metal shelves, attached to the walls, and some in the center were few compared to the large room, whose floors had been polished so much that they made more than one slip.

From this February 6, the collective exhibition of posters is also exhibited in the bookstore wild swan, inspired by the verses of Luis Rogelio Nogueras wichy, and carried out by Visual Communication students from the Higher Institute of Design.

Among the most repeated titles is the magazine Economy and Development, published every semester by the Faculty of Economics of the University of Havana, but it does not seem to arouse much interest in these times of crisis, inflation and loss of purchasing power of thousands of Cuban families.

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