King of Cuba by Cristina García
Scribner • $26 • ISBN 9781476710242
On sale 5/21
While Junot Díaz's This is How You Lose Her was my favorite book last year, I have a special place in my heart for books by Latina writers, including Cristina García's Dreaming in Cuban (a National Book Award finalist), a story of exile and family set against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution.
Dreaming in Cuban is classic Latino lit, addressing duality of place, the draw of homeland and the immense pain of political upheaval and precarious dictatorship, told in a multigenerational narrative form. (Think The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.) But what I loved most about Dreaming in Cuban—as with other Latina authors—was how it illuminated the unspoken pain of women in a highly masculine community.
In her wry new novel, King of Cuba, García comes at the Cuban male from a different angle, moving on and off the island of Cuba to tell the story of two macho, aging men in alternating voices. In Cuba, a fictionalized Castro called El Comandante nears the end of his life. Across the water in Miami, an exiled man named Goyo Herrera obsessively plots revenge against El Comandante, whom he blames for ruining his life and destroying his Cuban paradise.
Like in Dreaming in Cuban, these two narratives, interspersed with a chorus of other Cuban voices, combine to define an exhausted country and the bonds between its people.
Read on for an excerpt from the perspective of El Comanadante:
The injection pinched the crux of his left elbow. The despot suspected that his caretakers were giving him more than B12 and magnesium infusions, but he'd stopped monitoring his health so closely. A pain in his chest cut off his breath, prompting another round of violent coughing. It sounded to him like machine-gun fire. He took sips of water from the glass Delia held to his lips, then sank back onto his pillows, exhausted. Of all his infirmities, the incessant choking bothered him most because it interfered with his ability to speak. If he couldn't speak, he couldn't cajole, intimidate, or command. Why, in his prime he could've persuaded Jesus Christ Himself off the cross and into armed revolt against His Father!
His old rival, Che, had suffered from chronic asthma, and this had slowed down the rebels in the Sierra Maestra. Half the time, Che was laid up looking like a goddamn saint. At least he'd had the decency to (finally) die young and photogenic while "exporting" revolution to Latin America, thereby becoming the face of radical heroism. That photograph—the one of him in a beret looking beatifically toward the future—was the most ubiquitous image of the twentieth century. Fifteen years ago an anthropology museum in Los Angeles had exhibited its infinite reproductions: refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, designer handbags, flip-flops, even neckties. Add to that a rash of movies and biographies and Che's myth was iron-clad, larded as it was with lies perpetuated by the Revolution itself.
"What are your plans today, mi amor?" Delia asked, trying to recapture her husband's attention.
"You're asking me my plans?"
"Don't get upset, I'm just—"
"How about staying alive?"
Will you check this one out?