By Cristina Garcia.
235 pages
New York: Schribner, 2013.
ISBN # 978-1-4767-1024-2

Comments of Bob Corbett
August 2016

During the long set-up of this novel, I could see it was headed toward an attack on Fidel Castro. I was fascinated by this notion, but quite puzzled. How does one write a novel about an attempted, or even more surprising, a successful attempt on a person who is living? I was drawn in and had so FULLY (in my own head) substituted “Fidel Castro” for the novels “El Comandante” that it wasn’t until the final scenes that I realized this was TRULY a fictional novel and thus technically NOT about Fidel Castro.

That was a hard thought to deal with. Thus, even though I was two-thirds, perhaps even three-fourths through the novel when I realized I had to rethink the novel as a FICTIONAL assassination attempt on, not Castro, but El Comandante. That still sort of blew my mind, but settled me in what I was reading.

There was one moment when I was finally driven to this fact and that was when El Comandante went to Mexico to meet with the Columbian author Babo. I realized immediately that: Babo was a fictionalized Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and that Fidel Castro has never been to Mexico to meet with Marquez.

From that point on I realized I had to rethink the novel. This is the story of two men:

One is a only slightly fictionalized, but very cleverly imagined Castro, and the other was an ex-Cuba, wealthy and frustrated beyond measure that El Comandante has robbed him of his privileged position in Cuba, driven him out, and condemned him to a life of hatred and wish-for vengeance on El Comandante.

Once the completely “fictional” nature of this novel was clear to me I could get much more easily get into the novel and accept that the primary focus is a long-time hatred that Goyo Herrera, a once wealthy Cuba who lost his comfortable position (though not all his wealth) once the government of El Comandante took over. Goyo has hated El Comandante with a profound depth to his hatred, obsessed with El Comandante’s continued power dreaming of some manner of causing El Comandante’s fall from power.

El Comandante does even remember that Goyo ever existed or held power within the Cuba society. Rather, El Comandante is very old, struggling with his health, forced to give up his central power to his much weaker brother, but still thinks of himself as sort of an emperor of his realm.

The novel is then a ping-poinging between these two old men, both suffering from old age, various illnesses and ailments, yet each somehow clinging to the memory of his former power and ability to control his life and fortune

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett