Fernández’s passions, the immediacy of his reportage from the battered Communist redoubt, and his understanding of the Cuban...

ADRIFT

THE CUBAN BOAT PEOPLE

A compressed epic of the suffering, heroism, and determination that evinced itself in the Cuban refugee crisis of the 1990s—which in this translation carries heavy moral weight with intensely wrought, sometimes pedantic prose.

Following the 1989 collapse of the Soviet bloc, living conditions in Cuba deteriorated rapidly, and a series of political crises (generally involving US-Cuban brinkmanship) culminated in the frantic attempts by Cuban rafters to reach Miami between 1993 and 1996 (and since then). Fernández offers a terse but detailed narrative from within Cuba, capturing the desperate ingenuity of the Cuban people (both to build rafts, and merely to survive the post–’89 socialist privations), as well as the hoary treachery of the Castro regime (which constantly manipulated the rafters’ fates for political gain, first viciously attacking the refugees, then promising no interference to those who leave promptly). Although there were moments of both absurdity and triumph for the rafters, Fernández dwells on the horror: addressing the little-acknowledged fact that perhaps four times as many rafters died at sea as found land or rescuers, he narrates a long string of anecdotal suffering—typhoons, shark attacks, starvation, family members watching each other drown, and merciless “example-setting” killings by Cuban armed forces. Thankfully, Fernández also pulls back for the crucial global view, examining Castro’s long run, Cuba’s contentious relationship with other Latin American nations, and its perpetually worsening relations with the Clinton administration—culminating in the 1996 Cuban Air Force attack on the airborne exile group Brothers to the Rescue, and the punitive Helms-Burton Act that followed. The author’s portraits of these players and politicians, juxtaposed with details of the perpetually struggling Cubans, are laced with mordant irony.

Fernández’s passions, the immediacy of his reportage from the battered Communist redoubt, and his understanding of the Cuban people’s willingness to risk all for better lives make this a substantial contribution to a thorny international debate.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2000

ISBN: 1-55885-300-6

Page Count: 215

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2000

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The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he...

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and autobiography.

The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that's been renewed and deepened by all they've witnessed. Back in France, Hélène's sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette's colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself ("He liked to talk about himself. It's my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère's portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette's chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère's account of Juliette's widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère's meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette's last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9261-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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