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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 Lorca, 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?

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-374-20497-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996

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An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

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