Stephen Kimber—journalist, author, editor, broadcaster, teacher, traveller—was just back from more than a week in Venezuela, promoting his new book, What Lies Across the Water: The Real Story of the Cuban Five (Fernwood Publishing, 2013). He should have been tired. Actually, he should have been bone-muscle-sinew weary. Maybe he was, but to speak with him you’d never have known. He was as I’ve found him, as a friend and colleague, for decades: consummately animated, indefatigably engaged and damnably chipper. He moved into fourth gear when he recounted the genesis of what just might be his masterwork, which some international reviewers are now lauding for its investigative heft and “brilliant” storytelling.
“I’d done the novel Reparations (HarperCollins, 2006), and I had two commitments after that to non-fiction books. I had decided I was going to go back to fiction,” he said one day last month from his office at the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax, where he teaches creative nonfiction. “I had this idea for a novel, a love story about a middle-aged, determinedly single man who goes to Cuba and falls in love with a much younger woman and brings her back to Canada.”
But, for Kimber, a funny thing happened on the way to the fiction aisle. In 2009, he commissioned a Cuban guide to help him research the book. “He was this incredibly bright guy who worked with Cuban state security at one point and had a falling out and became a grey market tour guide,” he says. “I hired him …to show me the Havana I wouldn’t see otherwise. It turned out he knew all sorts of interesting stuff. He followed Canadian politics. I asked him at one point—this was just in the aftermath of the Obama election—whether he thought relations between the United States and Cuba would improve now that Obama was in. And he looked at me and said, ‘Nothing will change until they solve the issue of the Five.’”
Kimber was hooked, and the adventure commenced. Now, four years later, his happy preoccupation is giving his work—which tells the story of the Cuban Five, a network of Cuban intelligence agents arrested in the United States for trying to prevent terrorist attacks against their country in the 1990s, four of whom are currently serving long prison terms in the United States—the widest possible exposure. As he writes in his prologue, “Perhaps it was the quicksand complexity of it all that ultimately convinced me this story needed to be told, and needed to be told by someone who didn’t already know which versions of which stories were true.” (Click here to read our review.)
Kimber’s commitment to the art of storytelling is, of course, a matter of record. Besides his full-time gig at King’s, he is the author of nine books. For 16 years, he was a political and general interest columnist for the Daily News in Halifax. He is currently the senior feature writer for The Coast, a Halifax alternative weekly, a weekly columnist for Halifax Metro and a contributing editor for Atlantic Business Magazine.
As a broadcaster, he has been an Ottawa-based current affairs producer for the CTV network and a producer, writer, story editor and host for numerous CBC television and radio programs. His work has appeared on national programs ranging from television’s “Rough Cuts” to radio’s “Sunday Morning”.
To Kimber, the dreadful hypocrisy in US foreign policy towards Cuba, implicit in the story of the Cuban Five, is reason enough to tell the tale. Another is simply that it is, as he says, “fascinating” and, outside of Latin America, virtually unknown.
For any storyteller, let alone one of Kimber’s ability, the temptation to write it up is irresistible.
Alec Bruce is an award-winning journalist, author, broadcaster, critic, gardener, grandfather, husband, reader, air-guitarist, blogger and cocktail aficionado. He lives in Moncton, NB.