Cristina García’s King of Cuba (Scribner) is a wickedly awesome book.
The novel features two aging Cubans who went to college together and took two separate paths in life. El Comandante, based on Fidel Castro, became the country’s dictator, and Goyo Herrera ended up living in Florida and yearns to assassinate the man – or at least see “that son of a bitch in Havana to die first.”
After all, like many Cubans, Goyo has been through a lot.
“His brother had died in the Bay of Pigs, his father had shot himself from grief, his first love had hung herself over that tyrant. Goyo’s hatred was incontestable, lavish beyond measure.”
While Goyo also has to deal with an unruly son and health problems, El Comandante has to face political prisoners and other assassination attempts.
The book, at 235 pages, is easy to zip through because of Garcia’s great voice, which captures the bitterness of Goyo, the arrogance of El Comandante and the agony of old age. The book features generous amounts of profanity and sex and descriptions of their bathroom problems and penises. (Yes, you read that right.)
Aside from the foibles of the two main characters, the novel is a serious book – featuring anecdotes by everyday Cubans describing their struggles to make a living. King of Cuba makes a good companion to the recently released The Death of Fidel Pérez by Elizabeth Huergo, which also showed the effects of life under Castro’s regime.
Despite all he and his fellow Cubans have been through, Goyo still loves his homeland, as displayed in this beautifully written passage:
“ … the skies were embossed with the same moon and stars. The older he got, the more vividly his memories of Cuba returned – its dialects, its minerals, its underground caves, its guajiros, its hummingbirds, its fish, its chaos, its peanut vendors, its Chinese lotteries, its cacophonies, its myths, its terrors. Maybe this was what happened when a man approached death; senility and longing conspired to overtake reality. Perhaps Cuba had become nothing but an imaginary place, unrelated to any truth.”
King of Cuba is a book that will leave you thinking and laughing at the same time.
Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.