29 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments

I know, I know, it’s been a while, but the latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Erik Sean Estep on Noberto Fuentes’s The Autobiography of Fidel Castro, translated from the Spanish by Anna Kushner and published late last year by W. W. Norton. (FYI, the paperback edition will be available in December.)

Erik Estep is someone I know from the long, flat days of Central Illinois. At the time he was working in Milner Library at Illinois State University. Around the time that we all left Dalkey for Open Letter/Three Percent, Erik escaped as well, and is now a Reference Librarian at East Carolina University. Erik is also the most deluded Cubs fan I ever met, but that’s neither here nor there.

Now, although we probably should’ve reviewed this back a few months ago, the announcement regarding Castro’s memoirs actually makes this a bit timely. (Planned. Totally planned.)

Anyway, here’s the beginning of Erik’s review:

Most of the icons of the Long Twentieth Century (defined by most as stretching from the Great War to the suicide of the Soviet Union) have left the scene. If you were on team communism, chances are you in formaldehyde or you have turned over your kingdom to an heir. If you were on the capitalist side of the field, you’ve likely been given a nice state funeral by the victors, long after, sadly, your brain had turned to jelly. However, there is one leader who is still in game, a survivor who has managed recently even to return to the big screen, via an undisclosed location, to inspire the masses. That man, of course, is Fidel Castro. A stroke may hobble The Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, thus speeding up the transition to the Great Grandson of The Leader, but El Comandante continues to lead.

Castro has not yet published his memoirs, but is said to be working on them since formally relinquishing power several years ago. Norberto Fuentes in his delightful, brutally honest, and satirical book The Autobiography of Fidel Castro has beaten him to the punch. Fuentes was a companero of Castro and his regime until the late ‘90s until he became persona non grata and had to flee to Miami. Jean Jacques Rousseau invented the superstar memoir genre with his Autobiography, and, it is important to note, that the veracity of that book was challenged from the outset. Rousseau, ever the bad boy of the Enlightenment, was said to have shaded things in his direction. Even though we know that Fuentes book is a work of fiction, his many years at Castro’s side have made his work indistinguishable from “true” memoirs.

Click here to read the full review.

29 July 10 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Most of the icons of the Long Twentieth Century (defined by most as stretching from the Great War to the suicide of the Soviet Union) have left the scene. If you were on team communism, chances are you in formaldehyde or you have turned over your kingdom to an heir. If you were on the capitalist side of the field, you’ve likely been given a nice state funeral by the victors, long after, sadly, your brain had turned to jelly. However, there is one leader who is still in game, a survivor who has managed recently even to return to the big screen, via an undisclosed location, to inspire the masses. That man, of course, is Fidel Castro. A stroke may hobble The Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, thus speeding up the transition to the Great Grandson of The Leader, but El Comandante continues to lead.

Castro has not yet published his memoirs, but is said to be working on them since formally relinquishing power several years ago. Norberto Fuentes in his delightful, brutally honest, and satirical book The Autobiography of Fidel Castro has beaten him to the punch. Fuentes was a companero of Castro and his regime until the late ‘90s until he became persona non grata and had to flee to Miami. Jean Jacques Rousseau invented the superstar memoir genre with his Autobiography, and, it is important to note, that the veracity of that book was challenged from the outset. Rousseau, ever the bad boy of the Enlightenment, was said to have shaded things in his direction. Even though we know that Fuentes book is a work of fiction, his many years at Castro’s side have made his work indistinguishable from “true” memoirs.

The English translation is roughly 550 pages, which is abridged from the Spanish version that is nearly three times as long. Accordingly, the pacing seems a bit off; there is much about Castro’s rise to power, very little about Cuba’s involvement in the wars in Africa, the rapprochement with the Carter Administration, Glasnost, the fall of the Soviet Union, the execution of several high ranking Cuban officers for corruption in the ‘80s, etc. One can guess that they were left on the cutting room floor and since Fuentes was there for most of the period, perhaps they were left out of the Spanish version as well, just to play it safe.

And it is just as well because this book has the voice of a very young man, making Castro seems very alive, not yet ready for the embalmers needle. As with most political leaders, but especially revolutionaries, any memoir is also about ideology and Fuentes has a lot of fun with the myth of infallibility of dictators. Every single decision has to be correct and it is interesting to see how Castro airbrushes the record. The voyage on the Granma from Mexico to the Sierra Mastre has long since passed into Cuban mythology. What is less well known, is that leaving the Granma intact was a military blunder; Batista’s planes were able to hone in on the ship and trace the movement of the guerillas from that point and pound the insurgents from the air. More chillingly, Castro claims responsibility for Che’s death in Bolivia; it was all according to plan to use Che as a martyr for the Revolution. None of this sounds funny, but the ex post facto reasoning leads to some very tall tales that wouldn’t be out of place in the works of Mark Twain.

A curious omission is the figure of that Great Communicator: Ronald Reagan. Perhaps Castro is jealous and since he is still fighting the good fight; one shouldn’t give credit where credit is not due. What is remarkable, though, is the symmetry between this book and Edmund Morris’s Dutch. Morris, an old public relations hand, was taken to task for inventing a fictional character to carry the narrative along. Alzheimer’s had long robbed Reagan of his memory to remember his own lines so Morris was accused of taking advantage of a senile old man. But Dutch was a blast to read and laid out in a properly elegant fashion, with photographs of the handsome actor breaking up the gushing text. And so, Fuentes has given service to the Revolution he has long since abandoned; by writing Castro’s autobiography for him he has given notice that El Comandante is not ready for the formaldehyde of history just yet.

....
This Life
This Life by Karel Schoeman
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .

Read More >

A Dilemma
A Dilemma by Joris-Karl Hyusmans
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .

Read More >

Walker on Water
Walker on Water by Kristiina Ehin
Reviewed by P. T. Smith

There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .

Read More >

The Nightwatches of Bonaventura
The Nightwatches of Bonaventura by Bonaventura
Reviewed by J. T. Mahany

Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .

Read More >

Pavane for a Dead Princess
Pavane for a Dead Princess by Park Min-Gyu
Reviewed by Christopher Iacono

In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .

Read More >

Tram 83
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Reviewed by Caitlin Thomas

Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .

Read More >

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic
Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic by Octave Mirbeau
Reviewed by Lori Feathers

Twenty-One Days of a Neurasthenic is not a novel in the traditional sense. Rather, it is a collection of vignettes recorded by journalist Georges Vasseur in his diary during a month spent in the Pyrenées Mountains to treat his nervous. . .

Read More >