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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...



Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.


New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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