Three Trapped Tigers (my Spanish sadly isn't nearly good enough to read Tres Tristes Tigres, and my Cuban even less so) was one of the most amazing literary works I have ever read, like a Havanan Ulysses-meets-American Graffiti with a B-List Hollywood supporting cast as long as La Estrella, the hideously obese opera singer in the book, was wide.
I have forced that book on more people than any other, by far, and I'll force it on you if you've never heard of it. In all my life, the number of books that exhibited the sheer range, not just in style but in the alpha and omega of what I think of as the human experience, not to mention the absolute joy of stringing words together and messing with them, the pace, the language, the way the ink looks on the page, everything, I can count the number of books like that that I've read on one hand. Ulysses, Hopscotch, maybe one or two others.
The one other piece of trivia I have about him (I've never known much) was that he headed the Cannes Film Festival Jury in 1994, the year that Pulp Fiction won the Palme D'Or. Somehow, the idea that he was among the first to proclaim that movie as a work of genius makes a world of sense.
It really sucks that he's gone. I had this fantasy where I'd be in London, and I'd look him up, and his number would be listed, and I'd invite him out for an hour and talk about jazz and salsa records and just shoot the shit with him. I did that with Walker Percy when I was 18, and it really helped at a time where I thought my writing was execrable. (Which it was, but I was 18. Aside from Pynchon and Rimbaud, who writes well at 18? Hush.)
I know he was 75, and lived a full and excellent life, beginning to end, but still. A man of his integrity, humor, class and talent will be missed all over, not just among Cuban emigrés and cineastes too smart for their friends. Certainly he'll be missed here, inside me.
Goodnight and thank you, Guillermo Cabrera Infante. You have made my life brighter and better, which is more than I ever would have expected from some old Cubano sinner cinemaniac I never met. Thanks for leaving something special behind.