Vivid and alive, Cristina García's new novel transports readers to Cuba, to Miami, and into the heads of two larger-than-life men - a fictionalized Fidel Castro and an octogenarian Cuban exile obsessed with seeking revenge against the dictator. In King of Cuba, the National Book Award finalist and author of Dreaming in Cuban, writing at the top of her form with humor and humanity, returns to the territory of her homeland.
El Comandante, an aging dictator, shambles about his mansion in Havana, visits a dying friend, tortures hunger strikers in one of his prisons, and grapples with the stale end of his life that is as devoid of grandeur as his nearly sixty-year-old revolution. Across the waters in Florida, Goyo Herrera, a Miami exile in his eighties, plots revenge against his longtime enemy - the very same El Comandante - whom he blames for stealing his beloved, ruining his homeland, and taking his father's life. Herrera would gladly "wear chains on his ankles, chisel stones for his remaining days, even become a goddamn Democrat for the gratification of personally expediting the tyrant's journey back to the Devil, with whom he'd obviously made a pact."
With her masterful twinning of El Comandante and Herrera, along with the rabble of other Cuban voices that combine to create a chorus of history's unofficial stories, García plumbs the passions and realities of these two Cubas - on the island and off - and offers a pulsating story that entertains and illuminates.
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Cristina Garcia paints a picture of two men, past their prime, in her new book, King of Cuba. The first is a dead ringer for Fidel Castro, who seems to hang on to power and immortality for ever. The other man is Goyo Herrera whose sole ambition at this point in life is to outlive the dictator and better, be the one to kill him. The novel is a series of back-and-forths about the daily activities of each. The widower, Goyo, who lives in Miami, has to figure out how to handle his domineering daughter and somehow support his drug-addicted son. The dictator, on the other hand, spends much of his time reflecting on his past and looking forward to yet another grand birthday celebration. He is also to present a speech at the U.N. which is where Goyo hopes to assassinate the dictator. Does he succeed? You will have to read the book to find out.
Garcia, who did a wonderful job with Dreaming in Cuban, is on less sure ground here and the plot is often completely stationary before it lurches forward precariously. Cliches abound too - every Cuban woman has either full hips or breasts or all of the above. The prose is interspersed with very brief life anecdotes narrated by everyday Cuban citizens and one comes away with the feeling that the novel would have been a much more rounded work if some of these characters had more of a say in its pages. Fans of Garcia's fiction might like this one too but King of Cuba is not quite her best production.
"A clever, well-conceived dual portrait that shows what connects and divides Cubans inside and outside of the island." - Kirkus
"García's tremendous empathy for her characters is the magnetic force of her fiction, and her lifeblood theme is the scarring legacy of oppression and brutality, particularly the horrors and absurdities of the Castro regime. In her most honed and lashing novel to date, she goes directly to the source...An ingeniously plotted, boisterous, and brilliantly castigating tale." - Booklist
"In her fun new novel...Garcia's writing is laced with candor and wit as she portrays the lives of two men united by the past." - Publishers Weekly
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Cristina García is the author of six novels, including the National Book Award finalist Dreaming in Cuban; children's books; anthologies; and poetry. Her work has been translated into fourteen languages, and she is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a Whiting Writers' Award, among other honors. She has taught literature and writing at numerous universities, and is currently University Chair in Creative Writing at Texas State University-San Marcos. Visit her website at CristinaGarciaNovelist.com.
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