Nancy McKibben's Reviews > King of Cuba

King of Cuba by Cristina García
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really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed
Recommended for: readers who enjoy learning about other cultures; readers who like humor

King of Cuba
Cristina Garcia

This is the first time I have read anything by Garcia, already a well-established author whose works focus on Cuba and Cubans. In this novel, the aged Fidel Castro (referred to throughout as El Commandante) slouches around the island wondering where the Revolution, in which he still fiercely believes, has gone astray. His counterpart in Miami, aged Cuban exile Goyo Herrera, blames all the ills of his life on Castro.
There was no one in the world he loathed more, no one for whom he stoked a more bottomless fury, no one else he unwaveringly blamed for invading, oppressing, and misshaping his life than that fearmongering, fatigues-wearing, egotistical brute who continued to call the shots from his deathbed overlooking the sea.
Both men are trapped in an insipid old age. Goyo frets about his two strange adult children, and Castro about the Revolution that is soon to outlive him. Although there are some amusing plot twists, particularly when Castro’s brother turns the reenactment of the Bay of Pigs into a musical, the chief fun of the novel is being in the heads of El Commandante and Goyo. El Commandante is clearly a tyrant and a bully, but he fascinates us with his larger-than-life perspective:
Damn it, how he loved to hear his voice fill a room; nothing was more powerful to him. Nothing sounded more like Cuba than his voice. It was bigger than him somehow. Oceanic. Invincible. He was two people: him and his voice. Fuck them all, he thought.
Of course, both men are in their eighties. El Commandate’s hands “bulged from his wrists like oven mitts.” Goyo suffers from heart disease, and walks “at a thirty degree angle to the floor” thanks to crippling arthritis - not to mention irritable bowel syndrome, borderline diabetes, and intermittent impotence.

Somehow the author makes of these two tottery old men a lively, engrossing and funny book, and Cuba itself becomes an engaging third character, as the reminiscences of the two Cubans trace the history and culture of the country - at least as seen by two former strong men in their dotage.

Garcia’s prose is rollicking, and her characters thoroughly believable. Goyo’s and Castro’s thoughts are frequently and hilariously interrupted (although they don’t find it hilarious, of course) by their constant need to attend to various bodily ailments, and they muse at length on their sex lives, for the most part behind them now.

King of Cuba is the best kind of novel to read: entertaining and instructive.
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Reading Progress

June 23, 2013 – Started Reading
June 24, 2013 – Finished Reading
June 25, 2013 – Shelved
June 25, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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