Book Review: King of Cuba

Garcia king-of-cuba

I’m biased. Almost anything about Cuba fascinates me, and Cristina Garcia has become the definitive chronicler of both Cuba and Cuban exiles.

Garcia’s approach to plot and narration is sometimes a trial. She doesn’t like a single point of view, but wanders through time and many characters. This worked perfectly in Dreaming in Cuban, but in The Lady Matador’s Hotel I thought it gave the book a skittish feel.

I appreciate, in King of Cuba, Garcia’s new-found discipline in telling the story almost entirely from the point of view of two men: El Comandante (also called the despot, the tyrant or El Líder—clearly this is Fidel) and a Miami exile, Goyo Herrera, who is as old and infirm as Castro. Garcia has channeled her impulse to write from many perspectives by scattering small vignettes and footnotes throughout the book: observations by imagined Cuban poets, meat inspectors and meteorologists. These don’t help the narrative drive of the story, but they are all bite-sized and don’t interfere for long.

What I loved about the book is its portrait of old age. Of Goyo Herrera the author says, “He didn’t know a single Cuban of his generation who wasn’t besotted with the past.” Goyo’s last trip with his son, a man nearing sixty and perhaps schizophrenic, is filled with aching moments. “If only he could kiss his son’s eyes, wash his feet, take away his suffering, ease his inexhaustible heart.” But he cannot, and leaves him in a New Jersey motel, as Goyo himself drives on to New York. He’s on his way, if he can manage it, to assassinate El Comandante.

Garcia’s portrait of the desperation and ignominies of old age, of the hopeless attempt to cleave to past glories, transcends Cuban history and brings us two men I found cantankerous and self-inflating, but irresistible.


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