Prolific writer and translator Randall (About Little Charlie Lindbergh and Other Poems, 2014, etc.) touches on history only as background for her brief but admiring portrait of a woman involved in Cuba’s revolution from the very beginning.
Haydée Santamaría (1923-1980) should have been honored with statues and schools in her name, but because she committed suicide, unacceptable to the revolution, she is disappearing from Cuba’s history. Around 1952, she joined her brother, Abel, in Havana and immediately became part of the fight to overthrow Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship. Fidel Castro’s small army initiated an attack on Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953, a military failure that sounded the opening salvo of the Cuban revolution. Santamaría brother and fiance were captured, tortured, and murdered. Plagued by lifelong depression, she worked for Castro and the revolution for the rest of her life. She went to Miami to buy arms from the Mafia, organized exile groups, and fearlessly traveled throughout Cuba without being caught. As of the beginning of 1959, the revolution was considered a success, with free health care, universal education, and nationalization of foreign companies. Unfortunately, Randall only mentions historical events in passing, assuming readers’ knowledge of Cuban history. In 1959, Santamaría founded la Casa de las Américas, which encouraged and protected the arts. In keeping with Cuba’s goal of becoming a significant global presence, her first act was to initiate an international literary prize. Casa was her great success, promoting art as the highest expression of revolutionary social change. She accepted all, ignoring race, class, or sexual preference. Supposedly avoiding hagiography, the author enshrines her subject, supplying adoring quotes from friends and family about her goodness, kindness, inclusiveness, devotion, and idealism.
Pure praise for Santamaría and Cuba. Those seeking a history of Cuba should look elsewhere, since Randall provides a glimpse of the Cuban point of view under which the only difficulties were caused by those nasty bullies in the United States.