SEE YOU LATER ALLIGATOR by William F. Buckley Jr.
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Who was really behind JFK's '1962 triumph in the Cuban missile crisis? And who, five years later, sent Che Guevara to his death in Bolivia? Would you believe Blackford Oakes? Well, believe it or not, Buckley's latest historical whimsy takes CIA-hero Oakes to Havana in late 1961--as JFK's hand-picked emissary for a secret diplomacy-mission: to negotiate with Che for the lifting of the US embargo on Cuba. . . in return for Cuba's promise to keep its communist hands off the rest of Latin America. A hopeless mission? Not necessarily: Che is genuine in his distaste for the Cuba/USSR connection, his belief in revolution only from within. Meanwhile, however, tricky Nikita Khrushchev has convinced Castro that another US invasion-attempt is imminent (untrue), that Cuba therefore needs quick installation of Soviet missiles (for "defensive strategic capability"). Castro therefore orders Che to pretend to be seriously negotiating with Oakes, stringing out the talks in order to delay the supposed US invasion. . . while the USSR missiles are slowly, secretly being installed. And so nine months later, in July 1962, Oakes is indeed still a quasi-prisoner in Havana--meeting sporadically with the smelly yet impressive Che, getting guided tours of Cuba, having an affair with Che's interpreter Catalina, and developing a deep friendship with his own CIA interpreter Cecilio Velasco (a small, 60-ish, ex-KGB super-agent). But then, as the action shifts from give-and-take to derring-do, Oakes (thanks to Catalina) gets a firsthand glimpse of a USSR missile installation! He and Catalina are promptly arrested, tried, sentenced to death as spies; soon rescued by Cecilio, they set off via yacht for Florida and radio the Top Secret to JFK--before being recaptured by a Cuban patrol-boat. And though Oakes will eventually be brought safely home by the grateful JFK (who manages to transform a super-gaffe into a global victory), he loses both of his beloved friends to Cuban ruthlessness. . . with an opportunity for vengeance coming five years later in Bolivia. As usual, Buckley offers sly, irreverent, revisionist vignettes of political history here: the interior monologues of flaky JFK (more convincing than the cartoony ones in The Story of Henri Tod); dialogue along the lines of "Cut it out, Che, Nkrumah has been kissing communist ass for three years." But, while less crisply paced than some previous Oakes outings (lots of Cuba-tour padding), this is Buckley's most successful attempt to shade his fanciful thriller-comedy into more serious matters of love, loyalty, and honor--in Oakes' involving relationships with Catalina, Cecilio. . . and, above all, Che himself.
Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 1985
ISBN: 1888952512
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 1985


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