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Before Night Falls

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  5,114 ratings  ·  459 reviews
Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas describes his poverty-stricken childhood in rural, his adolescence as a rebel fighting for Fidel Castro, and his life in revolutionary Cuba as a homosexual. Very quickly the Castro government suppressed his writing and persecuted him for his homosexuality until he was finally imprisoned.
Hardcover, Large print, 398 pages
Published June 15th 2001 by Serpents Tail (first published 1992)
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Adriana I am Cuban-American. I can verify that the labor camps, the jails, the mistreatment of gays, writers, artists, dissidents is true. The neighbors snitc…moreI am Cuban-American. I can verify that the labor camps, the jails, the mistreatment of gays, writers, artists, dissidents is true. The neighbors snitching on one another and the paranoia, also all true. My paternal grandfather was jailed for political dissidence. My father came over on his own with his brother as a small child through the Catholic ministries. My cousins came through Mariel boat lift. There are documentaries that can help you understand the history and continuing misery of the island's inhabitants.(less)

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Average rating 4.18  · 
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 ·  5,114 ratings  ·  459 reviews

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Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Aspiring writers who don't understand how good they have it
Shelves: favorites
Perhaps the single best memoir I've EVER read, this work of art is excruciating. There is no doubt that everything that occurred to Arenas happened and that here is testament of how the new wave of Cuban writers, lingering between Batista (incited by him and his regime) & entering into the holocaust that is Communist Cuba by Castro, struggled & died. This voice was not extinguished, however.

Arena's life is full of missteps, amazing accomplishments & plenty of sex. He's proud of himself, never ap
K.D. Absolutely
Surprisingly very good. It's main message is freedom. Freedom from repressive Cuban regime of Fulgencio Batista and the more detestable one of Fidel Castro. Freedom from the sexual discrimination against gays in the Communist Cuba and this explains the picture that Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990): that homosexuality in Cuba was rampant. The book is full of explicit sex scenes not only of homosexuality but bestiality. I suspect that that was intentional in a way that Marquis de Sade (1740-1819) portr ...more
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cubans,Gays,Poets,Reinaldo Arenas'mother,those with a bawdy sense of humor/communism
Recommended to Jason by: netflix
"...he lived a life whose beginning and end were indeed the same: from the start, one long, sustained sexual act..." says Guillermo Cabrera about Arenas' life. And man oh man, he wasn't kidding. There is so much sex in this book! It makes me think that everyone in Cuba is a sexhound waiting to pounce on each other, only restrained by social mores and/or the repressive government and its forced status quo. there is so much sex, it's funny. In his childhood he's having sex with all these animals a ...more
Ben Winch
I don't know if this is 'literature' - and I certainly didn't read it as if it was (skipping around and skimming sections as I do with rock biographies) - but it feels true to me. And Reinaldo Arenas writes about literature as one who loves it above all - certainly above politics. Not for him any alignment with 'Left' or 'Right', and I agree completely, when the so-called Left can behave as the leaders of Cuba did during the period that Arenas writes about here. Not only that, but when supporter ...more
Jul 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shocking book, perfectly written! It kept me up nights. I don't know what to think, whose side to take as the author, refugee from Cuba to NY, terminally ill with AIDS, narrates his life right before chosing to end it, and this life is basically Gay suppresion vs. Castro's Cuba. I have an unconditional love for both gay fighters and for Castro, whom R. Arenas considers the Devil himself and the cause of all his troubles.
Nevertheless, the book gave me enormous pleasure and subjects to think upon
Mary Blye Kramer
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was a different book, to say the least. Initially I was put off by the rampant impersonal sex the author describes - constantly - with literally hundreds of young men. I quit reading about a quarter of the way through but when I picked it back up, I was captivated. This is the story of a wild, unbridled, rebel soul. I learned so much about life in Cuba under 2 dictators, but mostly Castro. I have never read Arenas’s fiction but he was a well-known writer who suffered hugely in Cuba. He writ ...more
Aug 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
"I thought I was going to die in the winter of 1987. For months on end I had been having terrible fevers. I finally went to a doctor and he told me I had AIDS."

Thus, from the start, the tragic frame was fixed, wherein with garish colours, baroque sketches and bold brushstrokes, Arenas draws up throughout these pages, a picture far removed from the idyllic setting that some come to seek in Cuba. Born into a peasant family in the province of Oriente, in 1943, as an impoverished child, Arenas knew
Robert Beveridge
Jan 30, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls (Penguin, 1993)

Arenas' memoir of life in Cuba has recently been made into one of the finest films extant by Julian Schnabel. Schnabel did an excellent job with the book; while his interpretation of the text was loose in places, he managed to capture in images the style of Arenas' writing.

In other words, if you saw the movie before reading the book, you're going to be somewhat surprised. Some of Schnabel's more memorable scenes are mentioned in passing (if at a
Kiran Bhat
Jul 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
One of the most poignant and heartbreaking LGBT memoirs ever written. In sparse and direct prose, Arena tells us of his life growing up in rural Cuba, his discoveries of his sexuality (first with his experience with a prostitute, and then with his fellow students and friends), and then moves us into Castro Cuba. It's a book full of viciousness and truth. The sentences devour you whole, only to spit you out, at least if you've been through similar experiences, and have lived to tell the tale. It' ...more
Atty. Winston Pagador
Done reading Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas and I thought it was sad, grisly, unsettling but ultimately moving memoir in the midst of repression and fear. Told in chronological account of his life, Reinaldo Arenas was quite a character; a larger than life persona, who endured dictatorships from Batista to Castro in Cuba. As a gay writer, he was particularly pursued by the government and tagged as counterrevolutionary. He was silenced and threatened but he persisted and ended in the most g ...more
Sean A.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely stunningly brilliant, candid memoir. Arenas does an immaculate job, as he would describe it, of screaming against the systems of control (in this case, the so-called communism but really dystopian dictatorship of castro's cuba) which doggedly plagued the author throughout his life. his scream is one of joy, and that joy often abounds from two distinct but sometimes overlapping subjects; sexuality (more explicitly, a hungry homoerotic sexuality) and the sea. these aspects provide the b ...more
Nicolas Chinardet
Even before the actual beginning of the book (in the introduction) we become aware of how unreliable Arenas is as a narrator. The impression is repeatedly reinforced throughout the book to the point that it become impossible to fathom what is true from what is exaggeration or even fiction under the pen of someone who seems perpetually dissatisfied with his lot and clearly has an axe to grind.

Having managed to read most of it in the original Spanish with the English translation at hand I was als
Jennifer Mccombs
Mar 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The truth that stems from this book is beautiful. Quite possibly my favorite writer at the moment. Each description is original in thought and placed on paper with no insecurities resting behind his hand. Beautiful, original, honest...a human being that was able to turn his own tragedy and life's struggle into a poetic memoir that should greet the eyes of anyone that considers themselves a true fan of great literature. This book will scare the shit out of you and make you think about Cuba and it ...more
Well I had to fight through that one at times.

I understand and feel for the author with the Cuban repression of his art, and the squalor that he had to live in. I think he was a wonderful writer, and his novels are probably brilliant. His views of the American far Left made me smile, as how can anyone have a better view of Cuba and the hatred and unjustified oppression that communism in that country produces.


I can not believe for one second many of the tales of his "erotic encounters." Cub
Jul 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Reinaldo Arenas is a fascinating writer. I loved The Doorman, and was looking forward to reading his memoir. I have to admit that even though I knew the rough facts of his life, I was not prepared for the huge amount of suffering I would encounter in his honest and brutal retelling of a life at the mercy of an intolerant system. I felt deeply touched by his reflection on the eternal homelessness of the exile, forever incompatible with the world.
A must-read for anyone interested in the corruptio
To check out my review:

True Rating: 3.5

I FINALLY finished reading this book after months of laziness and I am proud of myself that I actually read this entire book. I desperately want to give this book the full 5 stars because Reinaldo Arenas's writing is impeccable but unfortunately this book is not meant for public consumption. Ever since news has broken out about the United States negotiations with Cuba, I started getting curious over Cuba's history ev
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I want to visit Cuba more than ever after reading Reinaldo Arenas' bio. When you read this book, you will be given a raw and realistic insight into cuban society under Fidel Castro's regime and it will not look all that good, but something about it just makes cuban culture and cuban history very intriguing.

Arenas' story is a rough patch. All along, from birth to death. Yet he seemed to juggle his hardships in a very brave and undefeated way, it's as if he was used to live in misery and accept it
Zoe's Human
If you are looking for a nice, inspiring biography that delicately glosses over the actual suffering part of the writer's experience, this book is not for you. If descriptions of sexual encounters (enough to be questionable) bother you, this book is also not for you.

This was not easy to read by any means. While well written and compelling, the blunt descriptions of the things he saw and experienced are vivid and have genuine emotional impact. I feel admiration for him for having survived and gri
Eddie Clarke
Sep 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
A brave, honest and tragic autobiography, in a way demonstrating the persistence of idealism and hope despite the horrors of Castro's Cuba and the brutal disappointments of exile. Quite raw and unpolished, perhaps due to the circumstances in which it was written (he had AIDS), but nevertheless extraordinarily powerful and emotionally affecting. ...more
Kobe Bryant
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked how it oscillated between explicit gay sex and whining about Castro
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it
A compelling man; there's a compelling story here. But repetition galore. I'm no prude, but I could have done without descriptions of probably half of (Arenas's estimates) 5,000 different sexual encounters.

That said, the Introduction and the Farewell are breathtaking. Growing up under Batista is moving. And the middle third: trying to evade Castro's thugs, then a spell in Cuba's thuggish prisons (sentenced for being a foreign-published writer and a homosexual) was riveting.

Sadly, once he escap
James Henderson
More than two decades ago I read a devastating memoir, 'Against all Hope' by Armando Valladares, that depicted the brutality of Castro's Cuba from the view of a prison cell. Now I have encountered a comparable memoir in 'Before Night Falls'. His memoir, just as shocking as that by Valladares, is above all a book about being free -- as an artist, a citizen, and a human. Recounting his journey from a poverty-stricken childhood in rural Cuba (undoubtedly a more severe life than poverty in America d ...more
Matt Ockmond
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very different than the film that was based on it. Early in the book he talks about writing some of his novels in long all night bursts, and that feeling comes through in the writing. It approaches the feeling of manic rambling jumping from thought to thought very quickly. It's also very frank about sex and sexuality. The early parts of this book are about as scandalous as anything I've read. He's wielding his sexuality as a weapon. As though to say "You persecuted me for my sexuality? Well how ...more
May 07, 2018 rated it liked it
It's hard to look at this book as a story of Castro's revolution in Cuba rather than an actual piece of it. As a piece of propaganda itself, a political statement, and, yes, a memoir, it's hard to know what's true. Maybe the point, or a point, is that what's literally true isn't so relevant as the truth that under such a regime, life itself becomes a political act.
What is certainly true is Arenas' desperation and dedication to his art, his determination to be heard.
Apr 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
Remember when memoirists actually had something to say...?
Troy Rutman
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
You can fall in love with a ghost
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it
I was pretty sure I'd like this one... but at around page 200, it turns into chaos. The last few pages it seems like he becomes an astrologist or looking for meaning in everything.
Oh well
keith koenigsberg
Mar 31, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Arenas writes autobiographically about growing up in Cuba; the story is really 2 stories. On one hand it is an account of the cruel and suffocating regime of Castro and the repression that was pervasive, on the other hand it is an account of Arenas' astounding homosexual promiscuity. Really, after reading this you would think that every man in Cuba had to have been gay, for Arenas to have had the sheer number of partners he claims. Not Arenas' best work. ...more
[Around the World challenge: Cuba] This book was absolutely amazing. This is the memoir of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban writer persecuted not only because of his opposition against Castro but also because he was gay under a dictature that felt threatened by it. This is a book about freedom, anger, and life. The way the author chooses to picture Cuba is brilliant, the most intelligent and powerful ''f** you" to Castro there could have been. ...more
Zoë H
Jun 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
before night falls is one of the first memoirs i’ve read in a really long time, and no words could fully express the power of this story. reading this has been an EXPERIENCE and i’ve learned a lot along the way!! it feels as though i was traveling along with R.A through his insanely eventful life. also the movie sucks...they took way too much creative control and R.A would’ve hated it
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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 Na ...more

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