An exile’s plainspoken testimonial, bookending Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia in the literature of political disappointment.

MAP DRAWN BY A SPY

A geography of disillusionment as limned by the noted Cuban writer (Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá, 2001, etc.), once a stalwart of the Fidelista revolution.

The men and women who trudged out of the mountains and into Havana 60-odd years ago were a tough, committed lot. Their civilian successors were just as tough; even when behind the compound walls, writes Cabrera Infante, Cuba’s ambassador to Belgium carried a heavy pistol, while his first secretary “had already killed an exiled Cuban in Santo Domingo.” Stationed in Brussels as a cultural attaché in the mid-1960s, Cabrera Infante traveled to Barcelona to collect a literary award, his movements chronicled at the order of a one-time aristocrat who, now a Fidelista, “did no work at the embassy, who never worked at all, since he had no skills or knowledge of anything.” It was a silly inquiry, since, Cabrera Infante writes, the lives of every junior officer in the embassy were transparent, and all were true believers in the cause of Cuban communism. As time wore on, Cabrera Infante’s commitment to that cause withered, for one thing because a certain moralizing conservatism crept in, such that homosexuals were persecuted and an editor friend of his was removed from his post for having invited Allen Ginsberg to Cuba, who then “scandalized the leaders of the Revolution by crowing in public that he wanted to go to bed with Che Guevara!” When he returned to Cuba and found that children could no longer have cake at their birthday parties and that domestic scotch tasted “like disinfectant,” the bloom was most definitely off the red rose. Cabrera Infante’s tone is quiet and melancholic, especially when, comparing notes with other writers such as Alejo Carpentier, he reaches a profound conclusion: “Just because the Revolution took writers in (and over) did not mean that literature wasn’t a dangerous frivolity.”

An exile’s plainspoken testimonial, bookending Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia in the literature of political disappointment.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-914671-79-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Archipelago

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2017

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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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Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and...

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS

A dense, absorbing investigation into the medical community's exploitation of a dying woman and her family's struggle to salvage truth and dignity decades later.

In a well-paced, vibrant narrative, Popular Science contributor and Culture Dish blogger Skloot (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis) demonstrates that for every human cell put under a microscope, a complex life story is inexorably attached, to which doctors, researchers and laboratories have often been woefully insensitive and unaccountable. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, an African-American mother of five, was diagnosed with what proved to be a fatal form of cervical cancer. At Johns Hopkins, the doctors harvested cells from her cervix without her permission and distributed them to labs around the globe, where they were multiplied and used for a diverse array of treatments. Known as HeLa cells, they became one of the world's most ubiquitous sources for medical research of everything from hormones, steroids and vitamins to gene mapping, in vitro fertilization, even the polio vaccine—all without the knowledge, must less consent, of the Lacks family. Skloot spent a decade interviewing every relative of Lacks she could find, excavating difficult memories and long-simmering outrage that had lay dormant since their loved one's sorrowful demise. Equal parts intimate biography and brutal clinical reportage, Skloot's graceful narrative adeptly navigates the wrenching Lack family recollections and the sobering, overarching realities of poverty and pre–civil-rights racism. The author's style is matched by a methodical scientific rigor and manifest expertise in the field.

Skloot's meticulous, riveting account strikes a humanistic balance between sociological history, venerable portraiture and Petri dish politics.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5217-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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