The penultimate novel by Cuban author Sarduy (Cobra, 1972, etc.).
This book would seem to be a translator’s nightmare, but Fried has maintained the dark beauty and mystery of the work, originally published three years before the author’s death from AIDS in 1993. Sarduy’s circuslike world takes some getting used to. His hero, Firefly, is a young boy growing up in pre-Castro Cuba; in a David Lynch-ian touch, his name relates to his bald and oversized head. The narrative takes the first of many surreal turns in the first chapter, when Firefly puts rat poison in his family’s tea to keep them from noticing his fear in a thunderstorm. From there, the story shifts to the charity house where Firefly spends the rest of his youth, under the watch of the conjurer Munificence. His experiences are both disturbing and sensually charged. He watches while Ada, the woman he loves, is ritually bathed in lime juice and then pierced through the ears. His own sexual initiation occurs at the hands of two forceful, oversized creatures of uncertain gender. His first cigar is another kind of initiation, one that sends Firefly into a dream world. The story quickly loses any linear coherence it has, but the flow of images is dazzling and ultimately quite haunting. In the final chapter, Firefly’s world is now a wasteland, and he is racked with nausea. The closing image returns to the first chapter’s poison episode and is likely the author’s vision of Cuba to come: The innocence is now gone, and the violent impulses remain.
Rich poetry, elusive plotting and layered images make for an interesting read.