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Telex From Cuba: Summer Yummy.

cubaxThis isn’t the full on five stars (shoutout to B.), but a very good summer read.

Telex From Cuba was shortlisted for the National Book Award, and with good reason. I guess I left the Dominican Republic in Oscar Wao and was eager to hang out in the Caribbean. It’s only a short hop, skip and a jump from Trujillo. It’s hard not to love the historical context of the novel–1952-1960–where we are hanging out with rich American executives with the United Fruit Company as they insincerely sidle up to the revolving (and then revolting) politicans; Prio, Batista and ultimately Raul & Fidel. 

The families live in the collossal houses of La Avenida, servants abound, lawns are perfectly manicured, complaints about the food persist and Tom Collins and his fancy cousins are drained at the Pan-American Club. Wives have illicit affairs with locals, husbands are known for their latina conquests, daughters drop their pants for their Cubano boyfriends, and courageous teenagers start sympathizing with the rebels. The Americans try hard to have their separate world, but the intermingling is just too alluring….”You spoiled brats”, their father (the CEO) says when his son points out that the company is exploiting the very people who make the sugar processing factory sing. 

Given what we historically know happens next, we are ready for the shoe to drop. There are multiple story lines, woven together in a way that  the vignettes are repeated in parts by different narrators. But while we get different perspectives on a story–say a son seeing his Dad in an ice dream parlor with a burlesque girl and later that executive clinging to hope that they will someday be together –the stories are never really concluded in a definitive way. They come in and leave like waves lapping against the shore. If it sounds unsatisfying, it isn’t. It comes off in a dreamy kind of way. 

The real upshot of the novel is that it makes me want to go out and read the real history books. What happened in the 1950s and 60s in Cuba is fascinating. And complicated. And certainly relevant as we watch Fidel’s chapter coming to a close. As the review below writes: it’s a “sweet-tart meditation on a vanished way of life and a failed attempt to make the world over in America’s image.”

Let me know if you’ve read a good history title…..

Here’s the NYT review, which I found this morning. 

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3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Julie Goodrich #

    Just picked this book up yesterday and look forward to reading it. Have been in absolute desert as far as reading is concerned! Recently read another historical fiction (post WWII) which was wonderful. The Gurnsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Loved it!

    July 24, 2009
  2. katykeim #

    Just talked to Ma Turner this week and she commented that Telex From Cuba was the best book she had read in a long long time. She loved it. Join in once you have read it.

    July 25, 2009
  3. david fellows #

    Good call on this one, Katy! Totally reminded me of our time in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The author got the expat life just about right.
    It’s been awhile since I’ve read any non-fiction about the Caribbean. But I’ll think it over and dredge up some titles for you. un beso!

    October 5, 2009

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