In the novel The Death of Fidel Pérez (Unbridled Books), Elizabeth Huergo weaves in the recent history of Cuba with the tormented lives of its residents – all in a story that takes place in one day and begins with the shenanigans of two misfits.
One morning, an intoxicated Fidel Pérez is bereft that his girlfriend has run off with another man. He and his brother Rafael fall down the balcony to their deaths. Their neighbors cry out “Fidel has fallen” – and townspeople believe they’re talking about Cuba’s dictator Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul.
From this quirky start, Huergo focuses on three characters – Saturnina, a viejta who is still grieving the death of her son Tómas, a student who was killed while working for the Revolutionary Directorate against Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s; Pedro, an aging college professor who is haunted by the ghost of his best friend, Mario, who died in jail defending his cause; and Camilo, a student who is observing the action as the townspeople head toward La Plaza de la Revolucíon.
The commotion happens to take place on July 26, the anniversary of the Castros’ attacks on the Moncada Army Barracks in Santiago de Cuba, leading to their imprisonment, social unrest and their eventual power of Cuba.
The book shows how the Castros’ dictatorship affected the lives of Cubans – especially emotionally. The character of Pedro is particularly touching, as he deals with his guilt and the effects of living “in the belly of the monster.”
As one character tells him:
“There is no history written of those who quietly endure, Pedro. … There are monsters everywhere. They represent some necessary confrontation with ourselves. Their chaos, inflicted upon us, renders us to ourselves, reminding us of something integral that we need to remember.”
My only complaint about the book is that Huergo’s use of description – some of it is beautiful; other times, it drags the action. Still, the books moves swiftly and The Death of Fidel Pérez serves as an excellent history lesson and intriguing story.
Huergo, who was born in Havana, Cuba, and immigrated to the United States as a child, based the character of Saturnina on a woman her mother knew. Huergo also is a poet.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.