We may be 50 years past the Cuban revolution, but Rachel Kushner's debut novel, Telex from Cuba, weaves the tale of the years preceding the event with such warmth and urgency, that this forgotten time seems the most present thing in the world. Kushner writes from what she knowsand good thing for us. A trained journalist and editor whose American mother grew up in imperialist Cuba of the 1950s, she combines meticulous historic research with a rich world of fictional characters that brings those details to life. It's a multi-perspective narrative, told mostly through the eyes of two children of the American ruling class, K.C. Stites and Everly Letterer, who see the inherent racism (though they don't yet know that's what it is) in their daily lives and the foreshadowing of a revolution that their parents cannotor will notacknowledge. Adding to the chorus are a burlesque dancer in Havana mysteriously connected to the revolution, a French arms dealer, and even the Castro brothers make a cameo.
The book truly comes to life as narrated by Lloyd James, a veteran of more than 400 audiobooks. James uses his even, soothing baritone to create a sense of momentum and suspenseno small feat in a novel written mostly in third person description, with bits of dialogue few and far between. Pauses, both subtle and pronounced, accomplish the significance. "He liked the diaphanous allure of fishnets. They were"pause"an enticement in the guise of a barrier," he reads during the first meeting of the arms dealer and the burlesque dancer. When there is dialogue, James alters his tone, making clear what the author intends that character to represent (strength, stupidity, tragedy). With many characters narrating and few ways to distinguish them through dialogue, Telex can be a bit challenging to follow, but for those who do, there's a real pay-off: The colorful imagery and masterful analogies Kushner sprinkles liberally throughout her tale recreate a historical time with a love and understanding, for both sides, rarely seen. Kelly Marages
For half a century, Americans controlled Cuba's sugar and nickel operations---the country's two most lucrative exports. Between the United Fruit Company's 300,000-acre plantation and the nearby Nicaro nickel mines, Americans tended their own fiefdom in Cuba's Oriente Province. Everly Lederer and K. C. Stites come of age in this world. Each has a keen eye for the indulgences and betrayals of the grown-ups around them. Meanwhile, in faraway Havana, a cabaret dancer and a French agitator with a shameful past become enmeshed in the brewing political underground. When Fidel and Raúl Castro lead a revolt from the mountains just above the Americans' privileged enclave, torching sugarcane fields and recruiting rebels, K. C. and Everly begin to discover the complexities of class and race and the barely disguised brutality that keeps the colony humming. If their parents seem blissfully untouched by the forces of history, the children hear the whispers of what's to come, as Kushner deftly merges the rural and urban dramas.
At the time, urgent news was conveyed by telex. Kushner's first novel is a tour de force, haunting and compelling, with the urgency of a telex from a forgotten time and place.
©2008 Rachel Kushner; (P)2008 Tantor
"A riveting drama.... Kushner's tale, passionately told and intensively researched, couldn't have come at a more opportune time." (Publishers Weekly)
"Gorgeously written.... An imaginative work that brings Cuban-American history to life." (Kirkus Reviews)
A nostalgic introspectic tale of a young american living in the great time of Cubas revolution. Credible characters with a social raw truth of the era. Very well delivered.
Telex from Cuba is set in pre-revolutionary Cuba, which attracted me to the book right away. I find Cuban culture and history fascinating and I therefore had high hopes for Telex. However, I was disappointed.
Kushner's characters are purported to be the main draw to this novel, but I found them to be generally uninteresting with the exception of the Stites. The historical events are barely commented on at all and what we're left with is a very slow-moving book. For every few lines of actual plot advancement, we're subjected to pages of the characters' thoughts. Some might enjoy this style, but I found that it made the book interminable. In fact, there were multiple times near the end when I found myself thinking that the book was over but being disappointed to discover that it went on.
The narrator that was chosen is dull and somewhat monotone. Seeing as this book is set in Cuba, I would have thought that someone who had a basic ability to pronounce Spanish words would have been selected, but in this I was disappointed. He butchers the Spanish throughout the novel, whether the words were those of the Americanos or of the Cubans.
In fact, the narrator was responsible for the most disappointing part of the novel: the climax. Just as Fidel ends his revolutionary speech, the crowd erupts in "Viva Castro! Viva la revolucion!" However, in delivering this dramatic moment, the narrator in all honesty sounded like a lisping Scooby Doo. It was uninspiring to say the least.
I considered rating this book one star for the fact that Kushner took the liberty to involve Fidel in a homosexual episode. However, for the parts that involved the Stites, which were genuinely compelling, I gave it two instead.
Narrative makes the world go round.
This novel exceeded my expectations. It's set in mostly in Oriente province, Cuba between 1952-58, when Americans trusted both government and large corporations AND functioned as colonial rulers of the Cubans and guest workers from Haiti and Jamaica employed in mines and on plantations. The storyline switches between lives of expat Americans living a cushioned life in enclave multinational company towns to an affair between a double-dealing international arms dealer and an exotic dancer who has ties both to Cuban rebels and government, with, in between, glimpses of the exploited sugar cane and nickel mine workers and slum dwellers. Little Cuban point of view is expressed directly -It needs to be inferred - but that better suits a tale told by an American. Predominate voices are of a privilege young American boy and middle class girl observing the changes around them. There are snapshots of the husbands and wives of the managerial class. Around all this the Cuban Revolution unfolds- The young man speaks in first person and is speaking from memory, decades after the events described. Other points of view are narrated in third person (such as the arms dealer and dancer), so while an entertaining novel, it's also not an easy listen. The novel deals with social and cultural history more than the political, which still looms over all storylines
Notice that that the novel is READ, not narrated with theatrical voices, but it is well read suits novel's tone and structure with it's the third person style for most content.
Because of the melange of style and literary voices, my first reaction was that the novel was choppy and inconsistent, but the style worked well overall. One small flaw: there is not a smooth transition between vignettes in audio. Even a longer pause between would help signal the listener that voice or setting was about to change.
The redeeming value for this book is the look into pre-Castro Cuba and the Company life of expats in Cuba 1950's. Otherwise the book suffers from numerous vignettes of numerous characters without full development that would draw you in.
More detail and history should be added.
There are too many unsubstantiated character assassinations by innuendo. the suggestion that Raul Castro was a homosexual is completely uncalled for and a frequent lie spread by the anti Castro, Batistianos in Miami.
Character detail is excruciatingly lengthy and adds little to the novel.
The truth about the corruption of the Batista government and his support by the US government.
My father worked for United Fruit and we lived in Banes, which is near Preston during the time the novel portrays.
Telex From Cuba is a confounding book; it has truly colorful and intriguing writing that I truly enjoyed. But throughout the book I was left wondering what exactly the plot was?
As others have said there are some characters that add nothing to the story while others are really interesting. I was not bothered by the narration, though a little excitement would be nice at times.
Yet without a plot-line, what is the point?
I really enjoyed this book when the author stuck to the politics and life in pre-Castro Cuba. However, when she went off track with characters (Rachael K in particular) that really added nothing to the story, it got really boring.
This is wonderful book. The narrator is excellent and the content of the book fascinating. Good story with lots of Historical details.
As noted elsewhere: there is no story, the characters are sketches, the narrator monotone, the history a Cliff Notes rehash. The author did create a feeling I've never experienced from a book before. Listening was like sitting in small room on a humid day in S. Florida while a bored child shuffles randomly through faded photos commenting on people of no interest to anyone.
It's hard to reduce pre revolution Cuba to little more than scattered postcards and nostalgia for a repressive past, but the combination of lack of plot, poor editing and bored narrator leave the listener aching for the sun to set on this indulgence. If you want a short version, key in "Preston, Cuba" on YouTube. At least the faded images offer some color.
For an audiobook that handles the era with insight, Havana Nocturne is extraordinary.
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