Why Reinaldo Arenas and not Severo Sarduy? Born six years apart, the gay Cuban exile novelists died of aids in within three years of each other. In death, Arenas became a star, then, with Julian Schnabel's film , a superstar, whereas the twenty years since Sarduy's passing in 1993 have largely erased the memory of his accomplishments. His novel Cobra won France's Prix Médicis étranger in 1972, immediately followed by four literary heavyweights, Milan Kundera, Julio Cortazar, Steven Millhauser, and Doris Lessing, but for some reason his win did not propel him to their level of international acclaim, possibly because his novel is about a kitschy trans cabaret performer at the Lyrical Theater of Dolls.
Born in 1937 in Cuba's third largest city Camagüey, he left at 23 to study in Madrid but within a month diplomatic ties frayed between Spain and Cuba, and Sarduy had to move to Paris. He stayed there for the rest of his life, though he traveled throughout Europe and met his longtime companion François Wahl on vacation in Italy. His two volumes of essays are Written on a Body and Christ on the Rue Jacob, which Booklist called, "a special book of thrilling ideas excitingly expressed."
Last year wonderful Archipelago (forever blessed for bringing Gerbrand Bakker's gay novel The Twin to American readers) published Sarduy's novel Firefly [Kindle]: "For the first time in English, Severo Sarduy's most autobiographical work, centered on two transvestites who undergo oppositional sexual surgeries (one is castrated, the other is given a new member). This convention-defying, scatological, and very funny novel is a paradise of words, 'paradisic by plenitude' (Roland Barthes)."