Fidel Castro contemplates his legacy at the end of his life while a disgruntled Cuban expat plots to hurry that end along.
The latest from National Book Award–nominated novelist García (Dreaming in Cuban, 1992, etc.) attempts to get inside the head of Castro, who, deep in his 80s, stubbornly clings to the ideals of the revolution while musing on lost loves and past glories. (One well-turned set piece turns on a chintzy musical performed in his honor about the thwarted Bay of Pigs invasion.) Scenes starring Castro alternate with those featuring Goyo, a contemporary of the leader (they attended university at the same time) who’s plotting el presidente's assassination for a universe of reasons, including the deaths of his father and brother. Goyo’s scheme seems at first like an idle Internet obsession, but when Castro announces plans to speak at the United Nations in New York, Goyo turns serious and plans a road trip. Coming along for the ride is Goyo’s drug-addict son, prompting a host of memories of what used to be and what could have been. Castro has similar fixations, which is García’s point: Though Castro and Goyo live two different lives, their memories and heartbreaks each have a similar resonance. To that end, the style of the book resembles less a thriller than a meditative, lightly comic tale of two lust-fueled men on quixotic journeys. Footnoted asides from Cubans and Cuban expats add some broader perspective to the two men’s deeply interior lives, but the book thrives on the intimacy of its leads; in García’s hands, the insomniac, long-winded, mulishly committed dictator becomes, if not exactly sympathetic, at least entertainingly comprehensible.
A clever, well-conceived dual portrait that shows what connects and divides Cubans inside and outside of the island.