Beautifully composed authentic vignettes about Cubans of all stripes.

THE TRIBE

PORTRAITS OF CUBA

Pungent snapshots of life in Cuba both before and after the death of Fidel Castro.

Cuban journalist Álvarez has an excellent facility with dialogue and story, showing readers the distinct personalities of a diverse swath of Cuban citizens. First published in 2017, the book opens with a tender transitional moment as Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries on Dec. 17, 2014. “This news,” writes the author, “is not as momentous to Americans as it is to Cubans. Hence the fact that the announcement leaves no gringos bewildered, wondering what is happening and what will happen next. Cubans, on the other hand—we who effortlessly make an epic of the everyday, who don’t hesitate to declare the slightest skirmish or governmental whim a historic event—are instantly eaten up by questions, and frantically searching for some kind of clarity in our neighbors’ opinions in a way we never have before.” Throughout, Álvarez renders multifaceted portraits of a wide variety of memorable characters: American fugitives from justice; José Contreras, the Yankees pitcher who was finally allowed to return to his home country; members of the breakout Cuban orchestra Los Van Van; Rafael Alcides, a revered dissident poet in seclusion; a butcher and other shopkeepers who have learned to squeeze out a living by working the black market; impoverished intellectuals and beleaguered performance artists; and those walking along Havana’s famed esplanade, the Malecón, where the author visited “to do battle with an age-old canard: the syrupy, sentimental claptrap that third-rate poets, hack journalists, and miserable minstrels have poured over the long wall that girdles the city’s entrails.” Most of the author’s subjects love their country despite suffering under an authoritarian system that has left them with meager wages, food scarcity, and significant emotional drain. Álvarez captures it all in a satisfyingly kaleidoscopic narrative portrait.

Beautifully composed authentic vignettes about Cubans of all stripes.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64445-090-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: April 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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