The Stuart family moves to a marginal neighborhood of Cienfuegos, a city on the southern coast of Cuba. Arturo Stuart, a charismatic, visionary preacher, discovers soon after arriving that God has given him a mission: to build a temple that surpasses any before seen in Cuba, and to make of Cienfuegos a new Jerusalem.
A dark mosaic of interwoven narratives ...Despite being a quick and darkly comical read, The Black Cathedral addresses a vast thematic spectrum, highlighting the intersectional nature of mid-twentieth century Cuban society ... a transcendent tale of what it is to be human in a place not made to nurture. Exploring this idea of humanity in all its twisted, generous, deviant, beautiful forms, Gala’s novel is a twisted ode to a town teeming with magic and limitless potential, and replete with people in chase of unlikely dreams. Written with an astute colloquialism that captures a true and impressive diversity of voice, The Black Cathedral transports the reader to the marginal town of Cienfuegos, making no efforts to shield us from the dangers—and subtle joys—at the heart of its stories.
Even as the novel charts the voyages of its vagabonds, it represents an attempt to draw the periphery into the center, steering us toward the provinces as it renovates the Cuban novel ... This chaotic, democratic bricolage — each voice vulgar and vulnerable in its own way — styles the novel as a series of interviews. Taken together, they represent a cubist inquest into the soul of Cienfuegos ... The novel’s form isn’t its only radical quality.
...deeply immersed in Cuban culture and history ... Every fictional device imaginable is employed. The aberrations chronicled in detail include but are not limited to murder, cannibalism, and sexual intercourse with a corpse. Ghosts talk to and guide characters in the pursuit of treasure. Characters move casually from one sexual partner to another. Oral sex is commonplace ... As a result, I can recommend The Black Cathedral to those willing to face a society mired in poverty and excess. Its readers need to be willing to piece together the story from incomplete clues. A knowledge of Spanish will help. This is not an easy read ... But to the degree that Marcial Gala has accurately depicted the culture of Punta Gotica, the effort required to struggle through the book is worthwhile. I came away from The Black Cathedral with a deepened understanding of Cuba and the extent to which poverty can undermine decency — a lesson well worth learning.