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The Black Cathedral

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  470 ratings  ·  91 reviews
Haunting and transcendently twisted, this English-language debut from a Cuban literary star is a tale of race, magic, belief, and fate

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
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published January 7th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2012)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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 ·  470 ratings  ·  91 reviews

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I thought my neighborhood was quirky growing up: we had Southerners with shotguns, we had Jews with two terrifying Doberman Pinschers, we had a Caribbean woman who never, in my entire childhood, wore anything other than a muumuu. We had two teenaged boys who tried, frequently, to get us girls to pull down our panties, and we had two teenaged boys who turned out to be notorious house burglars, wanted in three counties.

I've always chalked up my childhood neighborhood to being “colorful,” “diverse,
Violence, death, rampant misogyny, corpse mutilation, cannibalism, psychopathy, religious zealots, nihilism, fear, racism, poverty - if he'd thrown in a few horses, I might have thought I was reading a Cuban version of Blood Meridian. This book is relentlessly dark, a nightmare, an inferno. It's touted as darkly comic, but I failed to see the humour here. It must be deeply hidden under the rotting bodies.

This is the debut novel from Cuban poet Marcial Gala, and he has certainly created something
Miesha Wilson Headen
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Black Cathedral is interesting. The setting is mostly the Cuban town of Cienfuegos which has its fractured divisions of middle class and poor, black, white and mulatto, the good side of the tracks and the bad, the creative class and the workers, foreign and native born. The characters are static; the book seems to be about what happens to those who stay in Cienfuegos, those who immigrate to other countries but carry their hectic homes in their hearts, and those who immigrate to forget the place. ...more
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
If you’ve read My Sister the Serial Killer I would describe this as the next level of horrific violence and definitely more black than humour. Through a community of individual narrators, giving eye witness testimonies, we circle around the Cuban neighbourhood of Cienfuegos delving into the dark actions and motives of its inhabitants. The centre piece of this community is a cathedral that is being constructed to unite people but this plan seems very much doomed to failure. While it took me awhil ...more
Esther Espeland
This was cool! Def made a mistake pausing this book to read x4 Harry Potter bc this story is told through switching between many narrators (ghosts, serial killers, lesbians, architects) and I forgot who was who by the time I returned to it. But brutal and magical and punk rock! Glad this book was finally translated into English, very cool depiction of Black communities in Cuba
Apr 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book was absolutely phenomenal. It was a fractured, intense, fatalistic view of a poor neighborhood overtaken by fanaticism and a dark cathedral to rise, unfinished but not forgotten, amongst them. This is a hard look at Cuba, at the people who live, sweat, fight, steal, and raise children there. It is unceasing in its brutality. The style of the book was great - told from the multiple perspectives of those surrounding the building of this cathedral - the people with darkness in their heart ...more
Nov 21, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley, fiction
Twisted and comic in turn, The Black Cathedral follows a chorus of voices in Cuba - from gangsters to prostitutes - whose intertwined stories come together and blend into one another and hurtle towards a dark conclusion.

I found the novel to be fast paced and with great potential but the story left me cold and the narrative failed to grab me. Perhaps a (/any) knowledge of Cuba's people and history would have enhanced my enjoyment.

Thank you Netgalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the advance
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I was surprised by how much the narrative style worked for me. The way the story built with each passage from a different speaker, it felt like something halfway between a gossip circle or interrogation or even a courtroom drama. The development of all these different characters and their own tragedies, all united in the shadow of the Black Cathedral.
Kim Lockhart
Feb 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Really good. Engaging characters, and a style of time/voice shifts which ensures that the reader never gets bored.
Jun 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed every minute spent with this book: fast-paced and told through and from the perspectives of characters that were central to and who observed the narrative during and after the fact. I could not look away.

Gala uses his intimate knowledge of Cuba to render a character-centred story with location settings used to indicate changing fortunes.

-One day the pigeons will take over the unfinished cathedral, they'll smother it with their wings, and when that day comes, I'm going to be in Cienfue
Amir Valle
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
With this novel, winner in Cuba of the most important literary and critical awards, Marcial demonstrates that he is one of the essential authors of current Cuban literature.

It is a hard novel, full of life, full of human traumas, beautiful and subversive, but above all, very Cuban. Its characters, born in the harshest Cuban social reality, have a vital force that gives the plot of the story the breath of great novels.

Jerrie (redwritinghood)
DNF - this is a short book, but after reading about 30% of it, I have no desire to pick it up again, so quitting on this one.
Jan 09, 2021 rated it liked it
An intriguing, strange and mysterious story. Told from the perspective of many narrators, mostly from the impoverished town of Cienfuegos, Cuba. The people are vibrant, good, bad, murderous. There is prejudice, sex, crime. It's all here. Society in one small town. This is a story of race, class and faith.

The many narrators tell their story, which spans a number of years (20 or more, I think), but the feeling of time passing doesn't really happen. The stories overlap, are sometimes "hijacked" by
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cuba, 2020
Multiple narrators tell various strands of a compelling, often lurid and violent story surrounding the arrival of a cult-like Protestant Christian sect to the Cuban city of Cienfuegos. The title of the book refers to the massive, strange church the new arrivals start to build in the Punta Gotica neighborhood of Cienfuegos. Though the church is always only on the periphery of the narrative it becomes a symbol of the moral decay of a small town, illustrated by the tragic, violent, and unhappy ends ...more
So incredibly good. Really dark and gritty for my normal tastes. I finished it with a lot of anxiety in my chest. Stylistically reminds me of Augustown, and Max Porter.

My only knock is that there were too many italicized words, which were distracting---like the translator was trying to dumb it down for the reader.
Lisa Cobb Sabatini
Mar 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I won an Uncorrected Proof of The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala from Goodreads.

Readers are immersed directly into the minds of the characters in The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala. This complex story is stripped down to the bare essentials as the reader spends brief moments observing each scene and the world at large from any one character's viewpoint. As each incident in the plot unfolds, readers feel as if they share every thought in the room, or in the crowd, including the ruminations of c
May 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the "documentary" style of this narrative, with a cast of eclectic characters telling their stories and their interactions with the builders of the cathedral. Like a documentary, however, there is little character development, though some were more fleshed out than others. The final "secret" was somewhat anticlimactic. Still, I appreciated the multiple voice storytelling and the insight into the town and people, and did not mind the unanswered questions. ...more
Jan 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book has strong roots in Cuban history and culture, and paints a surreal, twisted picture of the the country in the modern day. Set predominantly in the town of Cienfuegos, the story is dark, captivating and suspenseful. Told through the differing perspectives of a whole cast of characters, the narrative structure is relatively unique too - it just took me a while to grasp who exactly was who as they alternated often, hence the four stars.
Apr 06, 2020 rated it liked it
Not really sure this book worked for me - it's purposefully chaotic with so many narrators and surreal plot lines. I think I just wasn't in the right mood for this but the library hold waits for no one ...more
Jan 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I think this author must have read Palahniuk's latest. I liked the serial killer the best. ...more
Kathleen Gray
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Gala uses multiple narrators, who sometimes contribute just a small snippet, to tell the tale of a Cuba coming apart at the seams after years of semi isolation. The construction of the cathedral sets off a boiling pot that sometimes veers into magical realism. It's hard to pick out one voice or theme- think of it as a novel of babel (in a good way). It helps to have some knowledge of Cuban history and culture. Thanks to the publisher for the ARC. A great opportunity to read an important writer i ...more
Jun 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Gala is an award-winning Afro-Cuban novelist and poet and this is his first novel to be translated into English. I found the novel interesting rather than satisfying. I enjoyed the way Gala tells his story as an oral history, but the cannibalism, although it wasn’t sensationalized, got to be a bit much.
Jessica Moro
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was wild
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Impressive translation and compelling story. The neighborhood POV didn’t do that much for me personally.
May 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-literary
The Black Cathedral (2012) by Marcial Gala, a Cuban poet and novelist, is a vivisection of life in of Punta Gotica, a black slum in the Cuban city of Cienfuegos. This is a gritty story of crushed hopes, murder, lust, and ghosts. It is told in many voices in the style of an oral history of the people and events involved. A thumbnail summary is given at the end by one of the voices:
One day the pigeons will take over the unfinished cathedral, they'll smother it with their wings, and when the day
A slim, super-fast paced novel with lots of violence and sexual assault. If that appeals to you: congratulations, check this book out! If that doesn’t sound so great: yeah, I agree.

I’m torn about the large cast of POV characters. Some characters appear just once, but the focus is on two or three characters. I thought this story would be more about the cathedral, but it’s really about the lives of those few main characters. Almost all of the characters had a really similar voice, but each new POV
Kyra Johnson
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: review-copies
The Black Cathedral by Marcial Gala is a harsh and twisted tale about class, race and faith which mostly takes place in the Cuban town of Cienfuegos.

The Stuart’s move into a small neighborhood of Cienfuegos and their matriarch, Arturo Stuart, is an idealistic preacher who claims god has recruited him to build a monumental cathedral in town. The locals are equally intrigued and rattled by the family’s arrival.

Gala casts a myriad of narrators, from lovable artists to despicable gangsters, who al
Feb 24, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
When I initially started this book I was thrown off course by the number of characters who were commenting and trying to keep them all straight.Although I was still sometimes confused as I pursued reading, I began to keep them in line with this fast paced novel. Composed of uncouth behavior, loutish language and excessive violence but befitting the characters and place. Having visited Cuba a few times, I felt some of the atmosphere ,though exaggerated ,held kernels of truth. There is an ensemble ...more
Ray Sinclair
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Having been to Cuba a few years ago, I’ve wanted to read a Cuban author writing about his/her country. This dark tale, told by a raft of poor characters in a town on the southern coast gave me something that felt authentic. Artists, church people, children, and criminals mix in the struggle to survive their poverty and limited prospects. One of their worries is that they’re also black, dark black, an added burden no matter where you are. Want drives the action, and the characters respond with cr ...more
Emily Petersen
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arcs, netgalley, 2019
Thank you NetGalley for the advanced copy! I loved this quick read by Marcial Gala. The characters are so well written and even though there is a large cast, and we are only seeing a small snippet of time, they are clear and developed. There is a mix of lovable characters you deeply feel for and others that you can't even begin to understand. The style the novel is written in is really interesting and makes you want to compulsively turn the page. I never knew how much I enjoyed the oral history ...more
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Marcial Gala was born in Havana in 1965. He is a novelist, poet and architect, and is a member of UNEAC, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba. He won the Pinos Nuevos Award for short stories in 1999. LA CATEDRAL DE LOS NEGROS received the Alejo Carpentier Award for novels in 2012 and the Critics' Award for the best books published in Cuba in 2012. Gala has also won the Premio Ñ 2018 with INTEN ...more

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