The Tower of the Antilles

The Tower of the Antilles

by Achy Obejas

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Finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction!

Longlisted for the 2018 PEN Open Book Award and The Story Prize!

Included in The Rumpus's "What to Read When You've Made it More Than Halfway Through 2017"

Selected as one of Rigoberto Gonzalez's Favorite Books of 2017/Critics Pick, LA Times Jacket Copy

One of Electric Literature's Best Short Story Collections of 2017

"Questions of personal and national identity percolate through the stories in Obejas's memorable short fiction collection, most of which is set in Cuba, the author's birthplace...These 10 stories show Obejas's talent, illuminating Cuban culture and the innermost lives of her characters."
--Publishers Weekly

"By turns searing and subtly magical, the stories in Obejas' vividly imagined collection are propelled by her characters' contradictory feelings about and unnerving experiences in Cuba...For all the human tumult and deftly sketched and reverberating historical and cultural contexts that Obejas incisively creates in these poignant, alarming tales, she also offers lyrical musings on the mysteries of the sea and the vulnerability of islands and the body. Obejas' plots are ambushing, her characters startling, her metaphors fresh, her humor caustic, and her compassion potent in these intricate and haunting stories of displacement, loss, stoicism, and realization."

"Obejas's stories demonstrate an acute understanding of being caught between two places and cultures as different as America and Cuba."
--Library Journal

"Achy Obejas's collection is about fictional Cuban migrants who never quite escape the land they've left."
--Electric Literature

"Obejas writes with gentleness, without flashy wording or gimmicks, about people trying to figure out where they belong...The language we use and the stories we tell impact the futures we can imagine, but they are also restricted by what has come before. Obejas's Cuban characters, like most Americans, have limited access to the resources they need. One gets the sense that Obejas, like the Maldivian president, thinks it is time that the world takes these systemic problems on."
--Los Angeles Review of Books

"Achy Obejas' superb story collection The Tower of Antilles deals with the conflicted relationships Cubans, exiles and Cuban Americans have with their homeland."
--LA Times Jacket Copy

The Cubans in Achy Obejas's story collection are haunted by islands: the island they fled, the island they've created, the island they were taken to or forced from, the island they long for, the island they return to, and the island that can never be home again.

In "Superman," several possible story lines emerge about a 1950s Havana sex-show superstar who disappeared as soon as the revolution triumphed. "North/South" portrays a migrant family trying to cope with separation, lives on different hemispheres, and the eventual disintegration of blood ties. "The Cola of Oblivion" follows the path of a young woman who returns to Cuba, and who inadvertently uncorks a history of accommodation and betrayal among the family members who stayed behind during the revolution. In the title story, "The Tower of the Antilles," an interrogation reveals a series of fantasies about escape and a history of futility.

With language that is both generous and sensual, Obejas writes about existences beset by events beyond individual control, and poignantly captures how history and fate intrude on even the most ordinary of lives.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781617755538
Publisher: Akashic Books
Publication date: 07/04/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 150
Sales rank: 836,824
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Achy Obejas is the author of the critically acclaimed novels Ruins, Days of Awe, and three other books of fiction. She edited and translated (into English) the anthology Havana Noir, and has since translated Junot Diaz, Rita Indiana, Wendy Guerra, and many others. In 2014, she was awarded a USA Ford Fellowship for her writing and translation.

Read an Excerpt

The Tower of the Antilles

Short Stories

By Achy Obejas

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2017 Achy Obejas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61775-539-2


The Collector

For Humberto Sánchez


What is your name?

He looked at his passport. There was no question it was him in the photo, that was his name on the blue paper and on the visa attached unevenly to the page. On the tarmac, steam rose from the airplane waiting to leave the island.

He turned. Behind him, past the shadows and the glass partition, there were others — without passports, without visas — schools of them beyond the moist and blurry pane.

What is your name? the uniformed guard at the checkpoint asked again. The guard's eyes darted between the passport and the man, who was still looking over his shoulder at the shimmering aquarium.

The man opened his mouth and pronounced his name with a questioning lilt.

Look at me, said the guard.

But the man was afraid if he took his eyes off what now resembled the quivering lines of a galvanograph, he'd never find that familiar seascape again.

Look at me, said the guard, and this time he stretched his hand and cupped the man's chin, encouraging him.

He said his name once again, this time with more certainty, but his eyes remained fixed on the watery window. There was a bed of tiny fingers along the lower rim and a charm of eyes above them. Figures fluttered: expanding, pausing, contracting; he could almost feel the bodies moving forward, relaxing, then slowly beginning to spin.

Look at me.

Instead, the man lowered his eyes and the aquarium faded into twilight behind him.


Before the island had visitors, the natives traveled easier on water than on land. The shoreline served only to launch and beach the smooth dugout shells of maca trees they shaped into canoes, each identical except in length.

In spite of this, the islanders were terrible, unambitious mariners who rarely lost sight of the banks. They depended on the indented shoreline to create bays and lagoons to keep them close to home. Sometimes they'd wait for turtles to lay their eggs, then rush to the sand and flip them on their backs. They'd steal the eggs and slaughter the mothers, fashioning the carapace into combs and hooks for fishing. They found their best trawling where the depth of the continental shelf didn't exceed more than forty fathoms, where the waters were crystalline and warm and they could see the seabed drop to black.

They used bows and arrows, bottom lining, rodding, spearing, seine nets, and fish pots to catch snapper, grouper, garfish, kingfish, lobster, tuna, and shrimp. They had gourds to bail the canoes, to gather rainwater for drinking, and to store their catch. They crafted nose rings, necklaces, and earrings from fish bones and shells and used fish scales to make their bodies sparkle. They had no calendar, no writing system, and kept track of days by counting on their fingers and toes.


The orange nylon wrapped around the man's ankle like seaweed. When he bent to pick it up, he saw there were still crumbs of cork inside. He tossed the torn vest, then pulled in his line to cast again. It was early and the water was cool in the bay, the sky silvery. In an hour or two he'd be able to see the black dot of the island in the distance.

The man straightened the line. He'd made the rod himself, a three-meter bamboo he'd cut, trimmed, sanded, and hung for nine months. In that time, he'd eaten boiled plantains and stared up at the long vertical cane as if in meditation. When he first took it down, he couldn't wait to put a line on it. He ran outside to his suburban yard and whipped it from side to side, the bamboo sizzling through the air. Now he wielded it as if he were stringing a bridge to heaven. The rod aimed, the line rose to the sky instead of the bay.

The orange nylon floated back toward him in a bunch; he grabbed it. Then he saw a metal water bottle, its mouth open. An upside-down tennis shoe skimming the surface. A box of saltines. The man remembered his flight, how he'd pasted his face to the double panes of the window and lost count of the dark shapes in the water. Now his eyes followed the line of debris: a magazine, a compass, the jagged edges of a torn foam floater, a Manila rope like an albino snake curling on the sandy bottom.


The first visitors to the islands emerged from a tropical mist on three caravels, each sporting three lateen sails angled against the wind. Each ship ran nearly thirty meters in length and weighed more than ninety tons, dwarfing the native canoes beside them. The glittery islanders stood uneasily on their tiptoes, trying to see beyond the caravels.

Through grunts and signs, the new arrivals and the natives managed to establish some basic communication.

We've come a long way, said the visitors.

But how did you get here? asked the islanders, the fish scales on their bodies twinkling like tiny mirrors.

We sailed on these big boats, said the visitors.

What boats? We see no boats, responded the natives, still standing on their tiptoes, their canoes trembling on the waters.


One day, he stumbled on a tiny boat on the shore. He folded it like paper and took it home, setting it in his backyard. The next day, he returned to the same beach and found another craft, this one a long-sided wooden pentagon with slats across it. He dragged it from the water, tied it to the roof of his car, and took it home, placing it next to the paper boat. The day after, he was passing by when he heard a rhythmic thumping and turned off the road, down a dirt path all the way to the water, where he discovered a barge consisting of two long pontoons and a giant metal barrel hitting the rocks with each wave. He pulled it to the shore, then rented a trailer so he could take it home. This one he positioned in the front yard.

Later that week, he came home with a sloop made of balsa wood that had climbed the shore at high tide. Its skin was smooth as a baby's. Soon other crafts found a home in and around his yard — canoes and kayaks, floats built out of driftwood, hollowed tree trunks, discarded refrigerators made buoyant with inflated tubes, car chassis with water wings. A green truck with propellers. Inner tubes piled one on top of the other, filling his garage and blocking his driveway. There were dinghies and skiffs on the roof, and in the neighbors' yards, on homemade trailers in the streets. He sold his bed and slept on a sail he'd strung up like a hammock in his room.

By the time the new year rolled around, he was working three jobs to house the vessels in storage lockers and playgrounds, church parking lots and abandoned rural tracts, in a grassy yard behind a museum, even an airplane hangar. On Saturdays, he took flying lessons so that, eventually, he could reach them before their desolate landing.


He would try to explain. He would come in and sit across from the good citizens. He showed them his check stubs from dishwashing, from dog grooming, told them he got paid in cash to pick tomatoes. He had plans for a tower that would display the crafts and tell their stories. The good citizens had grown used to his pleas. They would listen politely then shake their heads. These are ghost tales, they'd say, phantom rafts. After a while, he'd scrape his chair back, get up, and leave.


In an overgrown and flooded marsh, alligators rested in the shadows of boats. Herons and egrets stepped gingerly through brackish water. Now and again, a transom moaned as it came loose and eased into the muck. Sometimes a new raft — usually made from truck tubes and bedsheets — would float up by itself, then slip away.

One day, just before sunset, the man drove up wearing wading boots and carrying a toolbox. He surveyed the collection in the reservoir. Then he took a hammer and drill and, one by one, undid each and every vessel, piling the planks, stacking the tires, making a heap of the lawn-mower motors, folding the fabrics left to right into triangles, like a flag. A short distance away, a plane began its descent, its white tail vanishing into the horizon.


Excerpted from The Tower of the Antilles by Achy Obejas. Copyright © 2017 Achy Obejas. Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Collector, 13,
Kimberle, 20,
Exile, 44,
The Sound Catalog, 48,
North/South, 68,
The Cola of Oblivion, 84,
Waters, 92,
Superman, 111,
The Maldives, 137,
The Tower of the Antilles, 153,
Acknowledgments, 159,

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