While singularly informative, this volume of autobiographically oriented sketches of recent Cuban history and culture is, in the end, evasive. Expatriate Cuban novelist Cabrera Infante (Infante's Inferno, 1984, etc.), a London resident since his 1965 defection, offers an omnibus collection of occasional pieces on topics ranging from the revolutionary painting of Jacques-Louis David to the fantastic possibilities of a world without Columbus. But the common thread here is Cuban politics and culture. Introductory passages suggest that Cabrera Infante might provide an overview of the bleak era since Castro's ascension to power. What emerges instead is a picture of Latin American literary life, with a dissident twist. Memories of the persecution that writers, and particularly gay writers like Reinaldo Arenas, suffered under Castro reveal the tragic dimensions of the revolution's betrayal of Cuba's intelligentsia. Strong pieces investigate how such foreign artists as Lores, Hemingway, and Walker Evans encountered Cuba. Cabrera Infante's picture of the decadent Batista regime is revealing, and he shares intriguing close-up vignettes of Castro's imperious ways. But much material appears more than once, while gaps remain visible in the overall story. Although the author was a Castro functionary in the 1960s, he leaves the details of his ideological evolution vague. Indeed, except for some introductory remarks on the exile's sense of guilt -- hence the ""mea culpa"" echo in his title -- Cabrera Infante never reckons with the personal impact on him of the Cuban revolution's souring. His attempts to maintain a humorous tone further shield him from the reader. Incessant wordplay, as in section titles like ""Hey Cuba, Hecuba?"" and ""Castro's Convertible,"" undercuts the seriousness with which he would confront the ""Castroenteritis"" gripping his nation. One could never wish for Cabrera Infante to lapse into silence. Would it be too much to ask of this brilliant exile that he provide the kind of profound account of Castro's Cuba that only he could give -- and that he restrain his punning?