THE ASSAULT by Reinaldo Arenas


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 Arenas, sick with AIDS, committed suicide in 1990, but his ``Pentagonia'' sequence (which includes Farewell to the Sea, 1985; Singing from the Well, 1987; and The Palace of the White Skunks, 1990) had been already capped by this dystopian, utterly disgusted little fantasy about life in Castro's dictatorial never-never land. It's a world of Multi-Families, Bureaus of Counterwhispering, Servo-Perimeters, and ever-remindful maxims from the illustrious ``Represident,'' such as ``Memory is diversionist, and must be dealt with harshly.'' People go about their shrunken lives like vermin, with no greater margin of freedom. They breed when instructed to, look only where it is permitted to look, and speak hardly at all. The book's narrator--a high functionary of the regime--moves through this joyless and instinctive existence, sampling its cruelties and repressions as he searches for the repulsive woman who is his mother, whom he has vowed to kill. Arenas has some dark and profound points to make (or remake: a number were already Orwell's or Zinoviev's) about the danger of language to authority, about revolution's insistence on the utility of psychosis (``What we had to do--and this the Represident knows well--was undermine everything, destroy everything that represented balance, that offered a point of comparison, that symbolized stability, that stood in our memories--demolish everything that might have represented the center, coherence, order, a system of values...''). But his matricidal narrator serves both as a monster from within and as a somewhat ironic sexual obsessive; and this blurred focus lends the book (as is the case with so much of Arenas) an hysterical overtone, a whiff of something above and beyond the stench of what it satirizes and full-heartedly hates. Chill but distracted, scattershot.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-670-84066-1
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1994


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