Excerpt from Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Back to Blood

by Tom Wolfe

Back to Blood
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2012, 608 pages
    Jul 2013, 736 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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A foul cascade of boos and slurs pounded down on him from above. Real slime! The cops were going to arrest a poor refugee on top of a mast and send him back to Castro and they were using a Cuban, a turncoat Cuban, to do the dirtiest work, but none of this quite reached the rational seat of justice in the left hemisphere of Nestor's brain, which was fixated upon an audience of one—Sergeant McCorkle ::::::and please, O Lord, I beseech thee, just don't let me fuck up!:::::: He is aware he has climbed practically halfway up hand over hand—still without using his legs. The very air is noise choked with madness… Jesus, his arms and back, his chest are reaching the edge of exhaustion. Has to pause, has to stop… but no time… He tries to look about. He's engulfed in clouds of white canvas, the schooner's sails… He glances down… he can't believe it… The deck is so far below… he must have climbed more than halfway up the mast—forty, forty-five feet. The faces on the deck all tilted straight up, toward him… how very small they look. He tries to pick out the Sergeant—is that him?… can't tell… their lips aren't moving… might as well be in a trance… Americano faces Americano faces… fixed on him. He looks straight up… at the face of the man on the mast… his filthy clump of a body has shifted way over so he can look down… he knows what's happening, all right—the mob on the bridge… their deluge of slime… directed at Nestor Camacho!… such filth!


"Dirty traidor peeg!"

Oh, the filthy clump of laundry knows. Every time his hunter grabs the rope to pull himself up higher, the filthy clump can feel a little jolt in the bosun's chair… The jib and spinnaker start FLAP FLAP FLAPPING in the wind… the clouds of canvas blow aside for a moment… there they are, the mob on the bridge… Christ! They're not far above him anymore… their heads used to be the size of eggs… now more like cantaloupes… a great mangy gallery of contorted human faces… my own people… hating me!… I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't flashes through his central nervous system—but bucked back down to patrolman—or worse—if I don't. Oh, shit! What's that setting off sunbursts? A television camera lens—and shit! There's another—and shit! One over there, too. Please, O Lord, I beseech thee… Fear hits him like a massive shot of adrenaline… Don't let me… He's still climbing up, hand over hand, without using his legs. He looks up. The man on the mast is no more than ten feet above him! He's looking him right in the face!… What an expression… the cornered animal… the doomed rat… drenched, dirty, exhausted… panting… barely able to utter a cry for miraculous salvation.

::::::Ay, San Antonio, ayudame. San Lazaro, este conmigo.::::::

Now Nestor—has to stop. He's close enough to the top to hear the man's entreaties above the noise from the bridge. He wraps his legs around the rope and stops still.

"¡Te suplico! ¡ Te suplico!" "I'm begging you! Begging you! You can't send me back! They'll torture me until I reveal everybody! They'll destroy my family. Have mercy! There are Cubans on that bridge! I'm begging you! Is one more such an intolerable burden? I'm begging you, begging you! You don't know what it's like! You won't be destroying just me, you'll be destroying a whole movement! I beg you! I beg you for asylum! I beg you for a chance!"

Nestor knew enough Spanish to get the sense of what he was saying, but he couldn't think of the words that might calm him and coax him down. "Credible threat"… That's it! He'll tell him about "credible threat"… A refugee like him gets a Coast Guard hearing, right there on the deck, and if they believe he was endangered by a credible threat, he would get asylum. The word for "credible"—what's the damned word for credible? maybe the same as English?—cray dee blay? But "threat"… threat… What was the damned word for threat? He knew he once knew it… There it went!… Right through his brain, before he could catch it. It had a z in it a z in it a z in it… Almost had it again!… but once more it was gone. For that matter, what about an official hearing?… He had to say something—anything—and so he ransacked his brain and looked up at the man's face and said, "La historia—" He caught himself just in time! What was happening to him? A famous quote from Fidel Castro was what his poor desperate brain had almost blurted out!

Excerpted from Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. Copyright © 2012 by Tom Wolfe. Excerpted by permission of Little Brown & Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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