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LOVING CHE by Ana Menéndez

LOVING CHE

By Ana Menéndez

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-87113-908-1
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

A professional woman tries to discover whether her father was really Che Guevara, in a first novel by storywriter Menéndez (In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, 2001).

Though born in Cuba, she has no memories of her parents: she was too young when, during the revolution, she was sent to Miami with her grandfather, to be raised there by him, a kind and bookish man disinclined to talk about the past. Eventually, though, she pushes him, and he admits that his own return to Havana to find Teresa de la Landre had been fruitless: she “had vanished.” The daughter herself tries once, and fails, but then, carrying a postmark from Spain, an odd package comes to her home in Miami, and in it are sheets of writing and some photographs—which are inserted, jarringly and not very successfully, into the pages of the novel—that give us, and her (“I sit at a worn desk to write a blind letter to my daughter”), Teresa de la Landre’s voice telling the story of her life: a girlhood with little supervision, her marriage to a man named Calixto, her career as a painter, everything changing as the revolution gathers around them—and her long, steamy, extramarital affair with Che Guevara, this latter told in a vein intense and lyrical, with remarkably few embarrassments (“Your kisses live in my heart like red banners,” Che writes her). Clearly, one more trip to Havana is in order, and this time Teresa’s daughter will indeed find out some real truths about her father, her mother, and the enigmatic spirit of Cuba itself. Though there are wobbles and occasional toneless spots throughout, both parts of the book—in Teresa’s voice and in her daughter’s—do considerably more rather than less to evoke the flavor and feeling of Havana, both the exotic and the dismal, with doubts, anomalies, and long, deep affections and sorrows intact.

On balance, convincing and compelling.