From Cuban novelist Arenas (The Doorman, 1991, etc.), who, ill with AIDS, committed suicide in 1990 shortly after completing this book: an extraordinarily powerful autobiography that's both a poignant personal memoir and a damning political indictment of the Castro regime and its supporters.
The only child of a mother whose lover deserted her, Arenas was raised in his peasant grandparents' home. Living in the countryside (whose superstitions and rituals the author vividly evokes here), the large family barely grew enough to feed themselves. As a teenager, Arenas worked in a factory, but, bored, he joined Castro's rebels, whose battles against Batista turned out to be more propaganda than reality--the real killing began, Arenas says, once Castro was in power. Selected for further education, he was sent for accountant's training in a remote camp where Marxist- Leninist texts and dogma were taught by Communists. By now, Arenas, disenchanted with Castro's totalitarian regime, had begun to write. His work soon attracted attention and he moved to Havana, where he wrote two novels that, though unpublished, won prestigious awards. Shortly afterward, the harassment began that would lead to the smuggling abroad of his writings, which were published overseas to critical acclaim; to brutal imprisonment and torture; and, finally, to exile with the Mariel boatlift. A homosexual--Arenas is very frank here about his experiences and feelings--and political dissident, the author had been doubly vulnerable in a state where homosexuals were routinely imprisoned. Exile proved little better: New York was "soulless,'' and for "Cubans who have suffered persecution for twenty years in that terrible world, there is really no solace anywhere.'' Unable to "write and to struggle for the freedom of Cuba,'' Arenas said in a letter intended for posthumous publication, "I am ending my life.''
A last testament that resonates with passion for the freedom of the human spirit and for the author's beloved Cuba: a distinguished addition to the literature of dissent and exile.