Usnavy hoards an unusual lamp with multicolored planes of glass, in which he sees
visions of enchanted Africa, a crystal ball where the whims of his imagination come to
life. When people try to buy it from him, he refuses them, but when he learns that it
might be a Tiffany intended for the presidential palace, he entertains the possibility of
selling it in order to buy his wife and daughter the things they need (a stunning family
secret also surfaces when he takes the lamp to a shop). Obejas’s writing is visual, and
at times even baroque, making desperate characters and circumstances shimmer with
an unusual beauty.
Charlie Vázquez is a radical Bronx-bred, Brooklyn-based
writer of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent. His fiction and
essays have been published in various anthologies, such as
the iconoclastic volumes, Queer and Catholic (Taylor &
Francis, 2007) and Best Gay Love Stories: NYC (Alyson, 2006).
His stories, interviews, book reviews and essays have
appeared in print and online publications such as, Chelsea Clinton News,,
Tanglefoot, Dreck, BigFib and Mensbook Journal. Charlie
hosts a monthly reading series called PANIC! (in the East
Village), which focuses on unusual and original writing—from
lesbian erotica to transsexual poetry to horror. He is a former contributor to the Village
Voice’s Naked City blog, a retired experimental musician and photographer, and
worked as an assistant to avant-garde diva Diamanda Galás, one of the world’s most
controversial musicians, for two-and-a-half years.  
Copyright 2009|Ambiente.  Do not reproduce without prior authorization.  APRIL | ABRIL 2009

Book Review | Ruins by Achy Obejas| (Akashic 2009) |  
By Charlie Vázquez

Achy Obejas’s latest novel Ruins is set in 1990s Havana and illustrates the trials and
small triumphs of Usnavy Martín Leyva, a staunch nationalist and middle-aged bodega
clerk who struggles daily amidst thinning rations and strife and refuses to leave Cuba—
even after he sees his best friend Obdulio to the beach and watches him take to the
sea on a raft, as part of the historic 1994 exodus. Usnavy is a multifaceted allegory for
allegiance, one who is bombarded with one disappointment after the next, but whose
resolve makes him adorable in a way difficult to describe without trampling into hot-
button issues, which is not my objective. Soviet refrigerators and Michael Jackson
posters capture Cuban isolation, dire environs.

The irony on which Usnavy’s survival is built upon is an always looming specter;
despite his distrust of imperialist America, his desperation for the American dollar is a
formidable force that propels the story’s plot. Usnavy is the only man in his decaying
household and is constantly referred to as un salao, one cursed with bad luck—but
when he devises a wily scheme for finding valuables to sell for American dollars (in the
rubble of derrumbes), his fortune begins to turn, if only slightly.

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