Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner in Telex from Cuba draws the story on her mother's and aunts' upbringing in Cuba in the 1950s. It is a portrait in many voices of the American presence in Cuba in the pre-Castro times, seen through the lives of the children and wives of American executives of "United Fruit Company" in Preston and "Nicaro Nickel Company" in Nicaro. For 50 years before Castro's revolution, Americans controlled Cuba's main exports - sugar and nickel. The executives and their families were sent to the island and the American companies built their own city complete with native servants. In this lush and idyllic environment they were dealing with Batista and in denial of the revolution. Meanwhile, a burlesque dancer Rachel K and a French traitor become involved in the growing revolution. Historic figures skim through the narrative like Hemingway, Prio, Batista, Fidel and Raul Castro, but more than history lesson, political intrigues, bitter romances are seen through the children's mind. Toward the end of 1957, the sons of two executives join the rebels, and within a month the United Fruit Company's cane fields are ablaze. The following year, the attacks on U.S. operated businesses intensify and the violence between the rebels and Batista's forces escalate. Finally, Americans are driven out after a Cuban investor got Batista's air force to strafe Nicaro. Americans who eventually evacuate the island and can never go back, reminisce their tranquil lives in Cuba in nostalgia.

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