FAREWELL TO THE SEA by Reinaldo Arenas


Email this review


Arenas, for some years one of Cuba's most important unofficial writers, was cast out finally in the Mariel boat lift in 1980. This book, part of a multisegmented work, provides a sense of the outrage felt by serious Cuban intellectuals (especially those who also are homosexual, doubly pariahs), plus a taste of the still flourishing baroque tradition in Cuban fiction personified by such masters as Lezama-Lima and Cabrera-Infante. The novel is cloven in two. The initial part is a humid, bleak, horror-accumulating monologue, narrated by a young Cuban woman spending a few weeks at a beach cabin with her baby and deeply depressed poet-husband. Disillusion is a condensing fog over everything: ""Now that the--shall we say--fundamental problems are solved--house, food, car, salary--we can devote our full efforts to making life intolerable."" The husband's political depression, his complete alienation, ultimately plagues the young woman with a no-way-out despair. But the husband isn't merely a poet: he's also homosexual; and the book's second half, which mostly is in verse (the husband's poetry--a difficult translation job handled ably by Andrew Hurley), is at once mythic fantasy, dark satire (a brilliant set piece in which a prancy queen negotiates the streets of the new puritanical Havana), and a litany of sadness and anger. As poetry, it doesn't quite match in intensity the wife's prose section, the oblique mirroring there being more powerfully bleak; and too much of it rains a dandruff of campy literary gesture--yet, together, the two disparate pieces pretty much complement each other. By no means congenial, nor as intriguing finally as the book it most aspires to (Lezama Lima's masterpiece Paradiso), it's a work that still bears powerful witness to the continuing, adventurous elegance of Cuban writing.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
ISBN: 0140066365
Publisher: Viking