June 18, 2014

Book Review: King of Cuba

From Good Reads: Vivid and alive, Cristina Garcia's new novel transports readers to Cuba, to Miami, and into the heads of two larger-than-life men;a fictionalized Fidel Castro and an octogenarian Cuban exile obsessed with seeking revenge against the dictator. In King of Cuba, the National Book Award finalist and author of Dreaming in Cuban, writing at the top of her form with humor and humanity, returns to the territory of her homeland.

El Comandante, an aging dictator, shambles about his mansion in Havana, visits a dying friend, tortures hunger strikers in one of his prisons, and grapples with the stale end of his life that is as devoid of grandeur as his nearly sixty-year-old revolution. Across the waters in Florida, Goyo Herrera, a Miami exile in his eighties, plots revenge against his longtime enemy, the very same El Comandante, whom he blames for stealing his beloved, ruining his homeland, and taking his father's life. Herrera would gladly wear chains on his ankles, chisel stones for his remaining days, even become a goddamn Democrat for the gratification of personally expediting the tyrant's journey back to the Devil, with whom he'd obviously made a pact.

With her masterful twinning of El Comandante and Herrera, along with the rabble of other Cuban voices that combine to create a chorus of history's unofficial stories, Garcia plumbs the passions and realities of these two Cubas on the island and off; and offers a pulsating story that entertains and illuminates.

My Thoughts: I really wanted to like this book, but it just fell flat. The characters weren't well rounded, or well developed. The introduction of Goyo's children into the story did absolutely nothing to advance the plot, and in the end, it was remarkably anticlimactic. Garcia tried too hard to make El Comandante like Fidel Castro, while simultaneously trying too hard to say that it wasn't Fidel Castro. She even went so far as to describe the dictator's relationship with Che Guevara. At that point, just come out and say that you're writing a fictionalized Fidel. 

I expected the book to dive into the intricacies behind the Cuban culture in Miami, and instead, it was about an aging old man who is obsessed with the dictator...a plot line that I, of Cuban descent, found difficult to believe. On Good Reads, I rated it 2 stars, generous because I found it at some parts humorous, but I wouldn't recommend it.

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