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Jorge Enrique Lage: La Autopista: The Movie (Freeway- La Movie)

This has been described as a cyberpunk novel though I would describe it more as a futuristic novel and, specifically, a futuristic novel that mocks the present. It is set in Havana in the mid twenty-first century where a giant freeway is being built, linking Cuba to the USA. To build it large parts of Havana are being knocked down and the city has essentially become a giant construction site. We follow two itinerants who are making a documentary about the freeway.

Our two heroes are an unnamed narrator and man known simply as El Autista, at least as far as the narrator is concerned. This means simply The autistic person. This is one of the several instances where the translator has not translated the Spanish. Another example is an area known as El Vertedero, which is the normal Spanish word for landfill. Why not translate it? I assume the translator had her reasons. El Autista will have mental health issues and will spend time in an institution and have treatment by a digital therapist, a busty blonde, of course.

The pair seem to hang around the area at the edge of the freeway, where they meet a variety of colourful people dead and alive, and have a series of odd adventures.

We start with Vida Guerra. She was a TV anchor. She was a female anchor but also a male anchor, as she would dress up as a man, with a wig and false moustache, and be a male anchor. When they find her she is definitely dead. They report this to the security guard, a former colonel in the Armed Forces. He says there is no point in telling the police. The place is littered with dead bodies dumped here and the police do not care. The Colonel, as they call him, is awaiting a heart transplant and our narrator performs one on the spot, putting Vida’s heart in the Colonel. He seems fine but when he tries (and fails) to masturbate over the corpse of Vida, he collapses and dies.

As mentioned they have a series of adventures, El Autista becomes a Seminole and he and his fellow Seminoles are looking for the Havana Hard Rock Café. Why? Well it is all connected with Philip K. Dick and the Cai-Men. (The Spanish for cayman, i.e. the crocodiley creature, is caimán). It seems that the Cai-men, a genetic mutation of creatures in the Everglades, were a secret organisation who kidnapped Dick. They apparently had something special – no-one is sure what – but it may be connected with the Grand Unified Theory and and Thomas M. Disch‘s novel Camp Concentration. This thing was something that could change the way we see the world. The Cai-men died out but the last one revealed this hidden thing was concealed in a Hard Rock Café so the Seminoles have been searching Hard Rock Cafés ever since. Of course, there was no Hard Rock Café in Havana in real life.

We carry on with their adventures. These include unearthing the skeleton of a prehistoric man, they christen Homo cubensis, a fight between the giant Transformer-like machines and a giant hurricane called Katrina who looks like a blow-up doll and a meeting with the former head of Coca-Cola who was, of course (really) Cuban.

Dick is not the only writer to play a role. Poppy Z. Brite, now Billy Martin, a transgender writer of gothic/horror/dark comedy works puts in an appearance. Various other 1990s primarily US cultural icons will make an appearance, not always in a flattering way.

We do get to see the freeway and there is, of course, a traffic jam. However our heroes continue their journey, working at a fast food joint-cum-sex shop before moving on. Cuban culture does put in an appearance in the form of baseball and chess (yes, there is a famous Cuban chess player and, in this book, a famous Venezuelan one called Roman Abramovich).

Lage himself has said that he is not keen on realism and this book was surrealist and absurd, which is certainly the case. It is great fun to read, mocks Cuba past and present and is highly entertaining, as long as you do not try to read too much in it and take it for what it is.

Publishing history

First published in 2014 by Editorial Caja China
First English translation in 2022 by Deep Vellum
Translated by Lourdes Molina