Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Singing from the Well” as Want to Read:
Singing from the Well
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Singing from the Well

(Pentagonía #1)

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  506 ratings  ·  54 reviews
This first novel in Arenas's "secret history of Cuba"-- a quintet he called the Pentagonia--is a powerful story of growing up in a world where nightmare has become reality, and fantasy provides the only escape.

"One of the most beautiful novels ever written about childhood, adolescence, and life in Cuba." --Carlos Fuentes

Reinaldo Arenas was born in Cuba in 1943. In 1980, he

Hardcover, 206 pages
Published 1987 by New York: Viking Books (first published 1967)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Singing from the Well, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Singing from the Well

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  506 ratings  ·  54 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Singing from the Well
Sep 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surreal and brutal, this is like "Guernica" by Picasso, which can be found in Madrid's Prado Museum. The point of view of the young Arenas (who gives us but a glimpse of this Magical Realist work in his fantastic 'Antes que anochezca') is vivid, alive, & at one point he stops and asks his audience: Are you listening to me? Do you know me? The questions are set off like some prayer, a song from a lonesome, often-times violent and horrific place, a "well." A man with a hatchet, witches, elves, ...more
The 5 stars I've given this book are in recognition of its genius that overides my intense dislike.
RA has certainly done a brilliant job in reconstructing the timeless and imaginative world of a child growing up in chaotic poverty. The reader is forced to decide on the reality of this world as presented. Is Celestino an unfortunate cousin,an imaginary companion/alter ego or the narrator stripped of his many disguises? What actually is the narrators name?
In fact, Celestino was the name umder
I read the description and it sounds so magical and fascinating... I read the book and I felt like it was one massive hallucination caused by severe physical abuse. I dislike the term "I didn't 'get' it" but in this case that couldn't be more accurate.
Kobe Bryant
I guess its kind of like what growing up is like
Sean A.
Incoherent and dreamlike, but (mostly) all the better for it. It's gonna be hard not to think of this in comparison to 'before night falls' by the same author (maybe the greatest and most impactfull books i've read in years) but i'll try not to do that since they are so different. I had such high expectations for this story of arenas' childhood after reading his more formal autobiography but let me reiterate this is so different it almost seems like it could come from the pen of a different ...more
Jay Daze
Aug 15, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Up until well over half way reading this book I was bitching and complaining, reading offending parts of the book to my wife. I felt like an adult following a child around as he played his own very private game. SftW was all fantastical, nothing grounded the story, there wasn't a plot, I didn't know what the hell was going on, characters were constantly dying and then coming back in the next paragraph, everyone seemed insane, is Celistino even real?

But..... right after or on page 130 (of 206)
Dec 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, favorites
"There went my mother, she just went running out the door. She was screaming like a crazy woman that she was going to jump down the well. I see my mother at the bottom of the well. I see her floating in the greenish water choked with leaves. So I run for the yard, out to where the well is, that's fenced around with a wellhead of naked-boy saplings so rickety it's almost falling in."

So begins Singing from the Well. In some respects, this book reminds me of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. In
Alex Leonard
Aug 15, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastically surreal this book jumps from factual descriptions to complete fantasy from one word to the next and paints an amazing picture of a child's difficult upbringing in Cuba, where the only release is to escape from reality.
C.S. Carrier
Oct 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book rocks balls. If I ever write a novel, then I want to write one like this.
I absolutely fell in love with "Singing from the Well".

The story is haunting, surreal and magical. Told from the perspective of an abused and starved child in the Cuban countryside, the story swings from reality to fantasy and back again before you can tell which side is up. I appreciated the wildly imaginative mind of the narrator, clearly using his fantasies as an escape from everyday life.

Is the narrator Celestino? Is he a literary foil for the narrator? Is he an imaginary friend? Or is he
Eric Cecil
Jan 29, 2018 rated it it was ok
Should've been 50 pages long.
Rob Withers
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shattering. The language is incredible and lyrical. But like some of my favorite reads, it will require multiple re-readings to try to figure out just WTH actually went on.
David Sasaki
Dec 05, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Carlos Fuentes called Singing From The Well one of the most beautiful novels ever written about childhood, adolescence, and life in Cuba. Im not sure when he wrote that but I imagine he was comparing it to the other two or three widely accessible novels about childhood in Cuba.

To delve into this book is like starting a full-day conversation with an 8-year-old determined to recount every last detail about his imaginary friends and mythical landscapes of the mind. This is a journey deep down into
Carlos Mock
Singing from the Well by Reinaldo Arenas

First book in Arenas' "secret history of Cuba," a quintet he called the "Patagonia, Singing from the Well."

An autobiographical recount on his youth, his mother talks piously of the Heaven that awaits the good, while disciplining him with an ox prod. His grandmother burns his treasured crosses for kindling. His cousins meet to plt his grandfather's death.

However, in the hills surrounding his home, another reality exists, a place where his mother wears
"The chorus of witches brought us a branch from a crepe myrtle bush today.
The chorus of witches danced through the big mud puddle.
The chorus of witches lay down with us and said, Hello. Hello. Hello."

This beautiful, strange book was taxing to read until I realized it's meant to be a long prose poem. It's the poetry of the voice of children. As if Arenas traveled back into time and took on a child's voice, so vivid and real and true to the imagination of childhood. A disturbed, starving, abused
Dec 19, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: need-to-re-read
I wasn't able to finish this book because i'm leaving pittsbrugh and its a library book. All i can say is i love it. You need to read it in one big breath, fast and emotionless, like a kid telling an adventure story. That's what it is, a kid engaged in the torture of his childhood, depersonalized enough not to feel pain but only an objective understanding of what is right and what does not seem right. Anytime he experiences trauma, he innocuously turns into the magically real, transforming his ...more
Jun 01, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
One of my favorite authors from college, his voice still rings true to this day. I was drawn to his passage, " I scream, therefore I am." Even a stay at home mom needs to be reminded to live in technicolor and turn up the volume every once in a while. My favorite book is his autobiography, "Before Night Falls," which Julian Schnabel made into a movie years ago. Aishah Rayman's (Chewed Water) voice and that of Arenas are very much the same...more of a roar than a voice; however, Arenas' swirls ...more
Andrea Moreno
Aug 18, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It seems a little silly that people are comparing Singing from the Well to Before Night Falls. They are both very different books. One is fiction and the other one is an autobiography. If you understand that difference you will treat Singing from the Well as the work of art and poetry that it is.

This is not a book about plot and or the development of "complex" characters that they thought you to analyze in High School. There's the Da Vinci Code for that. This is a book of emotions, of character,
I began this book and it was weird and all about this strange mood with not much plot and I thought "Hey, I love this book!" But then it kept going on with the same strange mood and it became repetitive and tedious and there was still really no plot and I thought "Dammit, I really want to love this book, but honestly I'm a little bored and would like something to change or there to be a foothold of a plot for me to grip onto." At the end I decided that I couldn't love the book, but that I ...more
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
my first arenas. written from a child's voice, it's interesting to read because of the verbal quality of the style. it's like listening to a person telling a story or reading a monologue. i love the way arenas jumps around in this novel and integrates textual art and quotes. the way he deals with violence is really real but he avoids a kind of shock-factor style and gives freedom to his characters in a really important way.
May 30, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hmmmm. I read this book after seeing "Before Night Falls," which was incredibly beautiful. Apparently it is the first in a series of five. Although there were some beautiful images, an unusual structure, and a circular, surreal, Garcia-Marquez-like cloudy quality to it, I don't think I have the patience to read any more in the series right now- the pace of the writing in circles was too tedious for me.
Dec 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Singing From The Well" is written like a memoir but without the flow of other memoirs I've read. The prose switches from dream sequences to real time quickly and seamlessly; so quickly I found it difficult to keep track of.
Through deceased relatives and raw,uncut dialogue, Arenas proves that real life and dreams can coexist if only to be used for psychological escape.

(The book was smuggled out of Cuba into Europe due to it's controversial content)
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting, semi-autobiographical work about a young boy growing up in a situation similar to Arenas. Shifts frequently between physical world and imaginary world of the narrator/protagonist (Celestino is an imaginary friend invented by him). The final section of the novel is fairly hard to follow as it shifts into a theatric sort of narration. We see how a creative and loving boy suffers in a tough and illiterate setting and how he yearns for more than what his surroundings offer him.
Feb 25, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: latino
written in prose-poetry, the imagery overlaps chronologically, making it difficult to follow. pov shifts from family member to family member. i think, however, the effect is reached as a blurry account of youth and dueling personalities. if you plan to continue the five-book history of cuba, this is a must.
Feb 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reinaldo Arenas' books have a tendency to be difficult to read because they've been translated from Spanish, but once you get past that, the imagery is amazing. This one has some interesting conflicts between fantasy & reality; very childlike. Vivid pictures and poetry.

Arenas' memoir, Before Night Falls, is incredible.
Ronald Wilcox
Surreal. Tangential. Bizarre. Interesting. Four words that sum up the first book in the Pentagonia. Arena's main character is a little boy from a very poor family who constantly imagines strange things about his family that help him to deal with their abusive behavior.
Sarah Lariviere
Jul 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love this book so much. Poetry, autobiography, fiction, automatic writing, translation, dream, anguish, childhood, parallel existences, split or multiple consciousnesses, intergenerational weirdnesses, violence, tears, softness. The freedom!
Bryan Duffy
Sep 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who walk on hot coals with shoes on, defeating the whole purpose of the damn hot COALS!
No really, this is a deeply poetic book. It gets into a section where the book becomes a play, that is the only part I didnt like. Other than that, this book is deeply moving.
Gregory Blecha
Apr 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Singing from the Well' is a mesmerizing read. It reminds me of '100 Years of Solitude' only without any semblance of structure. I am looking forward to reading Arenas' other books.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Distant Star
  • The Kingdom of This World
  • El hombre que amaba a los perros
  • Abril rojo
  • Alas de fuego (Ahriel, #1)
  • The General in His Labyrinth
  • Los Dioses también aman
  • Los caminantes (Los caminantes, #1)
  • El amor del revés
  • Everyone Leaves
  • Nazi Literature in the Americas
  • Silk
  • Tomoe Gozen y otros relatos de mujeres Samuráis
  • Los cuerpos de la habitación roja (Los Cuerpos, #1)
  • Hopscotch
  • Carta Al Padre
  • Between Two Fires: Intimate Writings on Life, Love, Food  Flavor
  • La novela de mi vida
See similar books…
Arenas was born in the countryside, in the northern part of the Province of Oriente, Cuba, and later moved to the city of Holguín. In 1963, he moved to Havana to enroll in the School of Planification and, later, in the Faculty of Letters at the Universidad de La Habana, where he studied philosophy and literature without completing a degree. The following year, he began working at the Biblioteca ...more

Other books in the series

Pentagonía (5 books)
  • The Palace of the White Skunks
  • Farewell to the Sea: A Novel of Cuba
  • The Color of Summer: or The New Garden of Earthly Delights
  • The Assault

Related Articles

April is the most hopeful of months, promising warm days and sunshine just around the corner. The weather is a little unpredictable, sure, but tha...
61 likes · 12 comments
“Like a lightning bug... Like a lightning bug?... Yes, just like a night lightning bug; because there are day lightning bugs too - even if nobody has ever seen one, I know there are some, and I know the day lightning bugs are the cockroaches that since they can't light up, people kill them.” 5 likes
More quotes…