It is said that timing is everything, and that seems to be the case for Phillippe Diederich, author of the new book Sofrito. Fifteen years in the making, Sofrito is the story of a Cuban-American who travels to Cuba in search of a secret recipe, and ends up finding love and the truth about his father’s family and their life in Cuba. It seems fitting that the book would be published now when the relationship between Cuba and the United States is on the mend. The embargo is close to being lifted, and Americans will soon be among the many tourists visiting the island, freely. “The first draft of the novel was originally done in 2000 or 2001. At the time Cuba was still a ‘forbidden land’ if you will. I lived in Miami on and off from 1980-1999 so I was saturated by Cuba and exile and this ‘evil empire’ type mentality,” said Diederich.
Diederich is no stranger to exile, nor to living in a heated political environment. His parents were thrown out of Haiti in 1963 and could not go back until about 1980. “I kind of translated some of that to Sofrito.”
Formerly a photojournalist, Diederich spent a lot of time traveling back and forth to Cuba throughout the nineties. At the time, he did a lot of reading about the island. That research proved instrumental when he decided to write Sofrito.
When I asked Deiderich about the main characters of the book, he said that Frank (the main character, who goes back to Cuba in search of a recipe that could save his failing restaurant in New York City) and his newfound love, Marisol, evolved during the writing process. Frank started as a passive character in earlier drafts because he wanted to position him as the reluctant hero, but that didn’t work out. It took Diederich a while to realize why Frank was feeling confused and incomplete with is life. “All this evolved as I saw his relationship with other characters develop. And it was something similar with Marisol,” he said. Of the two, Marisol was the tough one, with a thick skin and a harder heart. “As I wrote more about her, I softened her a bit, but I think that to survive in the Cuba of the nineties, and perhaps even now, one has to be tough, but she had to be the perfect fit for Frank.”
Diederich shares that his two favorite characters are Michi and Orlando, because they remained constant in his mind from the start, real hustlers and always at the ready for a new adventure.
Each chapter of the book begins with an epigraph about food from different Cuban personalities, including Fidel Castro himself, whose favorite dish is pork. Diederich said that earlier drafts of the book included more food as a metaphor for what happens in our lives, but in the end he didn’t want to alter the main storyline. He worked with his editor to keep the story moving and not get mired with too much food.
Sofrito is Diederich’s first novel and he is pleased with how well it has been received. The book was included in the ‘books to read this summer’ by the Los Angeles Times alongside Judy Bloom and Harper Lee—some pretty esteemed company. It was also included in a summer reading list by the Tampa Bay Times. “I know people who’ve read it have emailed or posted reviews saying they loved it. Many are asking for a sequel. I’m taking it as a good sign.” He is hopeful that there will be a Spanish version of Sofrito soon.
And as for Diederich’s next project?
“Cinco Puntos will be releasing my next novel, Playing for the Devil’s Fire in early 2016. It’s the story of a 12-year old boy whose parents disappear after narcos move into the town where they live in Southwestern Mexico. It’s a coming of age story that follows the boy as he searches for his parents with the help of a has-been masked Luchador.”