Growing up, people in my family always told stories about living under Batista, then Castro, in Cuba. My grandfather was an underground politician—anti-Batista—and it was politics, my aunts said, that ruined things for everyone. But I saw the way my grandfather sat up a little straighter whenever the subject was brought up. I knew that for him, it was politics that had made his life. His work had been so important to him he’d split his family for it, sending off his only son for what would become ten years, two marriages and two grandchildren, before he and my grandmother could make it to the states. And if anyone had bothered to ask him if he regretted any of it, I’m sure he would only allude to the fact that power is still in the wrong hands in Cuba.
In this way, when I first read “The Quietest Man” I felt that I could immediately understand a man like our protagonist, Tomas Novak—a man willing to risk his life for thousands of strangers in the name of revolution, yet incapable of identifying with those closest to him. He is a dissident first, father last, searching for inclusion and validation in places that no longer exist. His daughter Daniela is seeking similar things in a place that has been closed off from her. So by the time Tomas tells us “Part of me was saddened that my daughter was the kind of person who would crack so quickly, that the wall she’d built around herself could be so easily kicked down…” we understand his version of disappointment, because this is what his life’s work has been about: building impenetrable walls around himself. And the fact that his daughter is the one to help him find a new place for that validation and maybe begin kicking down those walls, offers a hopeful ending to a great story.
“The Quietest Man” is about censorship and recognition, yet ultimately it is the story of a father and daughter inadvertently building a bridge between two worlds. Author Molly Antopol never tells us whether or not the bridge will actually be crossed, but watching them build it is well worth reading for. I welcome Molly to our family of authors here at One Story, and look forward to reading many more of her stories to come. Read the Q&A with Molly to find out more about how she wrote “The Quietest Man,” and please feel free to share your thoughts with other readers.