MEA CUBA

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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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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