Claudia Putnam's Reviews > Telex from Cuba

Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner
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really liked it
bookshelves: blazing-debuts, literary-fiction

This was a deeply imagined and mostly satisfying book. The descriptions were so rich and never took me out of the story--instead they immersed me in it. As someone said, almost no one here is a good guy, and yet you are so embedded in each point of view you almost feel protective of each and every bad guy. Kind of icky in a way, but no easy trick. You care about the poor (ha) doomed folks running the sugar company--the more middle-class families who are there because it was better than being middle class operators at Oak Ridge--they get a lot more hardship pay, so to speak, in Cuba, and a lot more hardship, too, in terms of fouled air that will probably kill them--as well as the executive families who would certainly not have such exalted roles anywhere else.

They view this place as theirs and care about it in their own way. And they have Southern slaveowner-type views toward the Cubans and blacks who do the work for them, although slavery is long gone in the States.

So, while we're in their heads (we're in the heads of their children; it would never work any other way--we can find some sympathy for the kids), we know they're doomed, and really, it can't come quickly enough.

At the same time, while we can sympathize with the rebel's CAUSE, we can't really sympathize with the rebels themselves. They're so hapless, and Castro is so Castro (we never do get to see Che, and I wondered why). The character of la Maziere seemed the least believable to me. He's based on an historical person, but as a gun runner in this book, I couldn't see where his end points were--who he was attached to. Where was he getting the guns and to whom was he beholden?

And of course, Rachel K. I supposed Kushner was making the point that authors manipulate their stories/characters, but if so it's an obvious point. To me it seemed like just a literary trend that all the cool boys are doing--naming characters, often main ones, after themselves, and now you see the cool girls doing it too. It would be cooler not to, IMO. Jeez, even Siri Hustvedt did it her last novel. It makes sense sometimes, as in Ferrante's Neapolitan novels, but it just seemed gimmicky here, unless I'm missing something. Which I might be. Kushner is more brilliant than I am and she may well be up to something that I HAVE missed.

Essentially, reading this book is an act of surrender. You know you're reading a tragedy, but chances are even if you've read a fair amount about Cuba you don't really understand it emotionally all that well. The beauty of the place, why everyone, even those who were bleeding it dry, loved it so much. This is your chance to go down with the ship, and while maybe I'm not doing such a good job of selling the book to you with that line, actually it's a very sensuous experience, drowning in this manner.

Anyhow, loved The Flamethrowers, can't wait for the next book of Kushner's.
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Reading Progress

February 11, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
February 11, 2014 – Shelved
June 18, 2015 – Started Reading
June 25, 2015 – 0.0% "My God, this is rich."
July 18, 2015 – Shelved as: blazing-debuts
July 18, 2015 – Shelved as: literary-fiction
July 18, 2015 – Finished Reading

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