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Category Archive for 'Cuba'

William Kennedy’s latest novel in the Albany Cycle, his eighth, continues the story of several repeating families from Albany, New York, during the heyday of its infamous, politically corrupt “machine.” Focusing on Daniel Quinn, a newspaper reporter who is the grandson of the Daniel Quinn (who reported on the Civil War in Quinn’s Book), this novel begins in August, 1936, when Daniel is a child, watching as his father brings a piano (origins unknown) into the Mayor’s house. Cody Mason, a pianist specializing in Harlem “stride,” is about to put on a private show with the young Bing Crosby. Only six pages (and twenty-one years) later, Quinn, an experienced reporter, is in Havana in March, 1957, hanging out at the El Floridita bar and hoping that Ernest Hemingway, will show up. He also hopes to interview Fidel Castro. These two opening scenes, the arrival of Hemingway and his boorish attack on a tourist, and Quinn’s trip to Oriente province, establish the narrative tone and atmosphere for this novel which focuses on two revolutions, the Castro-led revolution in Cuba and the slightly later revolution in the US in the 1960s regarding civil rights. Humor and irony add considerable charm to the novel, and for many readers will more than outweigh the sometimes wooden characters and wandering narrative.

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In deciding to explore the complex and agonizing story of her brother’s life, Cuban author Cristina Garcia abandons her usual prose and writes in poetry, a form more appropriate for the intense feelings she bears toward her brother, a sick and broken man who was routinely victimized by his family as a child. Tracing her brother’s life from his birth in 1960, when the family became one of the first families to escape to New York from Castro’s Cuba, she recreates his life through poetry, up to 2007, when this book was first published. The short poems in free verse require the reader to fill in some blanks, and as one does, the growing horrors of this child’s life; the author’s own feelings of guilt for being unable (for whatever reason) to stop the torments her brother endured; her intense resentments against her parents, especially her mother; and her abiding sadness for the shell of a man her brother has become threaten to overwhelm the reader in the same degree that they must have overwhelmed the author.

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Set in 1994, when Cuba allowed its citizens to leave the country for the United States on anything that would float, Ruins, by Achy Obejas is a touching, close-up look at one man and his family and how he represents the life of the failed revolution of 1959. Like his countrymen, Usnavy Martin Leyva, named for the ships outside his mother’s house near Guantanamo Bay, has always lived in the shadow of the United States, ninety tantalizing miles away. Unlike many of his contemporaries, however, Usnavy truly believes in the revolution and in the revolutionary songs sung by elementary school children. Even now, two years after the Russians have abandoned Cuba, taking away with them the last of their meager financial support, Usnavy believes in the future, though he and his neighbors are starving. The emotions conjured in this book are intense, though the action is limited to the everyday life of Usnavy as he tries to live a real life within a revolutionary framework that he will not admit has failed him. With its compressed imagery and symbolism, and its dark vision of life as it may still exist today, Ruins by Achy Obejas is a memorable addition to “Cuban noir.”

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Cuba in 1992, the setting of this novel, is a “Special Period,” according to Fidel Castro. The Soviet Union, which has supported the island for years, has collapsed, and the country is starving. Gasoline is scarce, there are constant blackouts, meat and cheese have disappeared, and people have given up smoking so that they can go on eating. When they are lucky enough to find coffee, they dry and reuse the grounds four or five times. Still, there are principled young people like Dr. Manolo Rodriguez who believe in the Revolution and dedicate their lives to helping the poor. Though he has been offered a job which would pay him more money and provide him with some “perks,” he prefers to stay at the clinic he has set up for the poor in the basement of the building where he lives in a one-room attic apartment. Though the novel is gritty, it is no political screed. Arellano has chosen instead to provide a thoughtful look at a dark period, emphasizing the resilience of the Cuban people and their hopes for a better future.

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In 1950, when Ricardo Somocurcio first meets Lily, a “Chilean” exotic who has recently joined the teenage social scene in Lima, Peru, he is fifteen, sure of only one thing—that she is the most bewitching creature he has ever known. His young infatuation eventually develops into a lifelong obsession, and his story of how Lily dominates all aspects of his romantic life for more than forty years shows both the mysterious power of unconditional love and the peril of misplaced devotion. From Lima to Paris, London, and Madrid, the story of the “bad girl” and the “good boy” unfolds, exploring all aspects of love and betrayal within the changing settings and political climates of the various countries in which the two have commitments. Whether it be in revolutionary Cuba, in Peru with the Tupac Amaru guerilla movement, or in France with the revolutionary movement which brought about the downfall of Charles DeGaulle, the two show that love, politics, and violence exist side by side.

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