Felix Nogara has returned to Barata, Cuba, after the death of its Marxist dictator Campion (a double for guess who).
He had left when he was sent at 12 to stay with relatives in Miami, an uncle who used to be a political executioner on the island and then glided into drug-dealing in the US. Given his high-risk environment there, Felix's Florida vacation is predictably short, and he soon makes his way with barely provisioned independence to New York, where he works in a warehouse and begins writing poetry, driven by the example of his great-grandfather, the actual author of the classic lyrics of Barata's poet-laureate (read Martí). But his loneliness makes him vulnerable to an anti-Campion exile group that enrolls him as a bomb-maker. He sets off devices aimed both at rival exile guerrilla groups in the story’s byzantine political landscape and at his own unresolved anger. Never quite sure what he’s doing in any given society, Felix has the true orphan's velleity, but he does understand from his father's history lessons that his Baratan soul, like his father's, consists of equal parts sentimentality, kitsch, and astounding talent for both loyalty and martyrdom. When he finally returns to the island—“returning was like going back to Eden. It was like showing God who was really in control”—things are just as muddled, and Felix finds himself enrolled in political factionalism depressingly similar to what's come before.
Despite some fine journalistic passages about the Baratan exile community's fierce nostalgia, rage, and tackiness, Medina (The Marks of Birth, 1994) never finds a stable tripod for all his shuttling back and forth between exile and home, past and present. There's forced whimsy, García Márque–zlike historical sweep, and existential notes, but nothing hangs together.