Rachel Kushner Has Written An Astonishingly Wise, Ambitious, And Riveting Novel Set In The American Community In Cuba During The Years Leading Up To Castro S Revolution A Place That Was A Paradise For A Time And For A Few The First Novel To Tell The Story Of The Americans Who Were Driven Out In , This Is A Masterful DebutYoung Everly Lederer And KC Stites Come Of Age In Oriente Province, Where The Americans Tend Their Own Fiefdom Three Hundred Thousand Acres Of United Fruit Company Sugarcane That Surround Their Gated Enclave If The Rural Tropics Are A Child S Dream World, Everly And KC Nevertheless Have Keen Eyes For The Indulgences And Betrayals Of Grown Ups Around Them The Mordant Drinking And Illicit Loves, The Race Hierarchies, And ViolenceIn Havana, A Thousand Kilometers And A World Away From The American Colony, A Cabaret Dancer Meets A French Agitator Named Christian De La Mazire, Whose Seductive Demeanor Can T Mask His Shameful Past Together They Become Enmeshed In The Brewing Political Underground When Fidel And Raul Castro Lead A Revolt From The Mountains Above The Cane Plantation, Torching The Sugar And Kidnapping A Boat Full Of Yanqui Revelers, KC And Everly Begin To Discover The Brutality That Keeps The Colony Humming If Their Parents Manage To Remain Blissfully Untouched By The Forces Of History, The Children Hear The Whispers Of What Is To ComeAt The Time, The 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 This book was mesmerizing beautifully written and truly evocative of the time and place of the story Kushner paints an indelible picture of life in the United Fruit company s outpost in Cuba, her words creating a vivid portrait of a way of life in collapse The characters are wonderfully drawn and Cuba itself acts as a character in the novel Knowing that Kushner s mother lived through this tumultuous time in Cuba lends even greater reality to the narrative I picked this book up and could barely stand to put it down The book highlights the inequalities that helped lead to the revolution, and the sadness of people on both sides when it didn t all work out as planned I highly recommend this book. I enjoyed reading about the drama of the American families living in Cuba during the 1950 s.I especially enjoyed the children.3.5 rating the Political parts of the book did not flow as much for me as the personal relationships parts of the book did. Rarely do I hate a book I do admit that there are books that simply do not capture my interest, such as the previous book I have read But this one is a little different.I checked this book out of the library a few months ago It has been sitting on my drawer for quite a while now, and so I finally picked it up and started on it It started quite ok, but it stayed flat In short, it was quite painful to finish, although I didn t skip the chapters, and faithfully read until the end When I finished, I wasthan happy to return it to the library.Now what could be wrong with this novel Well, to start with, there was no character that seemed to be the protagonist Everyone had a chapter or two of their own None of the characters were likable It seemed that everyone was an enemy the Americans were enemies because they were sucking the life off Cuban land and living like they were having their own fiefdoms, or the Cuban rebels for torching the sugar plantations and planning and executing the revolution Everyone seemed to be the enemy in this case.The narration also shifted constantly from an omniscient point of view, to the point of view of K.C Stites, which is a character, not really major, but not really minor either It was quite dizzying when the shifts occurred There were so many characters, so many American families and other characters that I wished there was a genealogy chart in the beginning of the book, instead of a map of Cuba It could have been a good historical novel, but the spotlight was shown on multiple people that it was quite hard to keep track The book lacked a cohesive element, except that everything was just set in Cuba.If you like Cuban historical fiction, go ahead and read this Otherwise, I say pick up something else. With language as lush as the tropics itself, Kushner unfolds a political revolution and an embarrassing blotch on American history, described as temptingly as a bountiful buffet spread or a botanical garden run amok.Beginning the book through the eyes of children is a brilliant stroke The author shows their na ve view of Cuba like someone born into a cult who doesn t know anything of the outside world Then we see American families moving to Cuba to improve their place in the class hierarchy, not satisfied with degradation of middle management back in the States We are shown the class system at work in Cuba from the lowest echelon the near indentured slaves, the Jamaicans, working the cane fields To the Cubans working the mine, the servants working in the homes of the white Americans, the Cuban landowners, the white American rednecks who oversee the cane crushers in the field, to the nickel mine managers and on up to the Executives at the American owned United Fruit Company The fruit company doesn t grow fruit any, just sugar cane, at the expense of the natives back breaking labor The Executives live in expansive houses with wrap around porches and plush gardens They have servants for gardening, cooking, chauffeuring, bartending, haggling in the market, and hosing down the house s daily coat of Nickel factory residue Father runs the Company with an iron fist or rather he hires an iron fist and Mother is a liberal, sympathetic to the poor individuals she comes across on her horseback riding excursions, but not necessarily of the plight of the cane crushers in general She wouldn t speak ill of The Company One tow headed brother runs off to join the rebels, the other stays and is Mother s golden boy The revolutionary action picks up when we meet a French agitator, who will sell guns to all three of the warring sides, just to make sure his trip to Cuba is worth his while Maziere has been around the world, been with every kind of woman and seen every kind of war He s a fascinating character an antagonist that s well drawn But the author indulges him with a little too much musing and slows the plot down While his motives for joining the SS are fascinating, her historical research gets a little showy We know what s coming Revolt Kidnapping Strafe and he s a little too preoccupied with an aloof dancer from a Havana cabaret And speaking of, why is she named Rachel K Some of the American wives in TELEX FROM CUBA are beautiful, but it s the faux zazou dancer Rachel K that gets the lustiest descriptions, the supplest breasts, and the attention of every important man in Cuba, it seems It feels like narcissism on the part of the author If the end seems unsatisfying, I guess it s because there s been no real resolution to the American relationship with Cuba Life went on Still, the characters, the scenes set at beachside barbecues and the American country club, the parties where Cuban presidents and the American businessmen mingle in finery without a hint of guilt, builds such a vivid picture Reading this book is like watching a gorgeous movie, and then watching the film catch fire and burn up, broadcast on the big screen When it fades to white, you want to start it again from the beginning, just to watch it burn. This was well written book It was a page turner for the first half, but then came to a screeching halt by the second half I felt it was boring and anti climactic.However, it was neat to read about this time period, and I have never read ANYTHING about the Cuban revolution Although it is none of my business, I wonder if the insinuations about Raul and Fidel s sexuality are true. This was a book club pick from the finalists for the National Book Award I really can t imagine why While the descriptions of a pre Castro Cuba were good and the story of the American families interesting, the whole mess with the dancer and her ties to the underworld were a major distraction I still would like to know what point she was making in having the dancer s name be Rachel K An author doesn t give her character her own name without some sort of reason and I could never find out what it was. I was going to start this review by saying that this novel gives the lie to anyone who says you can t teach people to write Of course you can teach people to write You can teach people to drive, which is a lot harder than writing You can teach them to build bridges across impossible spaces, put up those massive, bristling skyscrapers in New York and Shanghai, get oil from the desert, make rockets and missiles and sell them to countries worse off than you so they can almost but not quite destroy each other You can teach people to enslave entire populations and justify it with plausible rhetoric that makes it look like you are a philanthropist and benefactor.So of course you can teach people to write.It s just sentences One after another.We can t all write beautifully, I ll admit Even after a lot of lessons at top schools like Berkeley and Columbia, where Rachel K learned to write, it takes a lot of patience and practice to write something like this The rain let up, and wind was vacuuming out the last low, ragged clouds as La Maziere continued along the Malecon, looking back periodically to be sure no one was following him The moon appeared, glowing like a quartered orange section that had been ever so lightly sucked, its flat edge thinned and translucent.He turned and headed up La Rampa, in the direction of the Tokio He assumed she was still there, still in her zazou getup, her legs painted in prison chain link, as smearable as when he d last left his handprints on her soft and unathletic thighs, six months earlier.The references to the rain and the moon are fairly standard You ll find paragraphs starting that way in every half decent detective, romance or horror story Rachel gives them a bitintensity than many writers There is some close observation there Maybe the description of the moon is even a bit laboured.But I admire enormously the second paragraph I admire it and it gives me great pleasure I can read it again and again.She could have said something like He assumed she was still there, still in her zazou getup, still exactly as her remembered her from six months earlier But no, instead we get a vividly visual and tactile memory of what exactly it is that La Maziere remembers, her painted on fishnet stockings, rendered with that wonderfully evocative word smearable , her soft thighs, susceptible to his handprints What an image There are many paragraphs like this in the novel, which give it a compelling forward momentum I not only go back and saunter but I also race onward, eager for the next delicious frisson, which is at once sensual, intellectual and literary.The narrative sections depicting La Maziere are probably my favourite ones in the novel I love the way Rachel is so cool and wise in showing us his brutish, predatory and often childish responses to women As a narrator, she is aloof But the insights she gives us into the way people think are astonishingly intimate She does this without irony, or an irony so faint and empathic that it is ambivalent if it is there at all.La Maziere doubted going to Japan would convince him that femininity was the art of walking in stilettos, that it had much to do with poise or surfaces, makeup and neck ribbons Whatever female essence was, he had caught it only fleetingly, a thing women reflected when they were least aware He couldn t name this quality but suspected it had something to do with invisibility, a remainder whose very definition was predicated on his inability to see it.These insights lingered long in my imagination Reading this novel was like being plunged into lots of different lives and experiencing strange situations with the freshness and immediacy of a child It was revelatory and inspiring It was healing It made me happy.I was going to start this review this way but then I read through the comments on Goodreads and I thought, Oh no, I m wrong Rachel can t write, after all She has failed to please so many readers, many of whom struggled to finish the book I learned of a new literary genre LOB left on board.Catastrophe Perhaps you can t teach writing, then Those world leading writing schools have failed us and failed Rachel K.What to do Bin my review Re think my literary touchstones Doubt my judgement Throw in the towel I don t know Writing is hard Writing is really hard Teaching people to write must be even harder All right, then It s impossible. It took me a very long time to get through this book Normally, if I am struggling this much, I will move on I m not one to force myself through books, life is too short and there s too much to read But I kept on with this, because I had a sense that Kushner had a particular vision for this something very different from what I, as a writer, would try to do and I wanted to find out what it was, and how she was going to achieve it.Perhaps the most difficult thing about the novel s structure and form, for a reader, is that there is no protagonist It seems to me that Kushner s main character is a certain time and place a world, not a person I ve read many novels that shift in point of view and yet still provide the reader with a single voice that dominates, even just slightly, to guide the reader through Delillo s Underworld, for example or Toni Morrison s A Mercy In those instances, the character who speaks in first person is usually the central character.In the case of Telex, the first person narrator, KC Stites, is not at all the most compelling or dominant character His I think is the weakest and least convincing voice and he is the least interesting character This is probably a central reason for why I found it hard to connect with the story This world of Cuba on the verge of revolution that Kushner is rendering is so complex, textured, tentacled I think she really needed an anchoring voice amidst the many many voices she portrays here She seems to not have been able to decide between KC Stites and Everly Lederer, whose voice starts and ends the novel I think the book would have worked better if she d committed to Everly an odd young girl at the time of the revolution who has a quirky curiosity and an interesting way of seeing things as the central voice.But this world she gives us is indeed fascinating And the novel is smarter than I am, which is another reason I kept with it On the sentence level, Kushner is masterful And the sheer ambition of the book is very, very impressive I have a sense that this book is probably a must read 5 star choice if Castro 20th Century Cuban history is of interest to begin with but for the general reader, a rough entry. I recently read Rachel Kushner s The Flamethrowers and fell in love I have to admit that if I just saw her literary debut, Telex from Cuba on the shelf without reading The Flamethrowers, I probably wouldn t have been interested in reading it There s no good reason for that other than too many books and too little time, but I am glad that I loved The Flamethrowers so much that I gave this a try.It s just not as good.Which is strange to say because I d say these books are almost identical in so many ways Kushner is a fantastic writer and I can only be eager to see what she does with that writing as time goes by For a debut novel, Telex from Cuba is pretty impressive, both in style and in the story itself Kushner is a young writer, yet she was able to capture life in Cuba in the 1950s so convincingly that if I didn t know better, I d think she maybe had these experiences herself.Usually I m pretty good at pinpointing what it is in a book that doesn t work for me, but unfortunately this time I m having a hard time I think overall this smelled too much like The Flamethrowers that I don t feel it was strong enough as its own book to be amazing Maybe if I had read this one first I d feel differently.I had difficulty with perspective in this novel, understanding whose point of view I was reading and their relationship to the other characters There were a few different storylines running simultaneously, and bringing them all together in a nice bundle at the end felt a bit forced and tenuous The strongest of all the stories is the one of Everly Lederer and her sisters, and that s the one that really should have made up this book, that was its strength.Still, this was good on it s own it just didn t have the same impact on me that her second novel did It s all about experiences and I could relate to The Flamethrowers in a way that I wasn t able to connect to this one.
Rachel Kushner s new novel, The Mars Room, will be published on May 1st, 2018 Kushner is also the author of The Flamethrowers, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times Top Five Novel of 2013 Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book A collection of her early work, The Strange Ca
- 322 pages
- Telex from Cuba
- Rachel Kushner
- 03 December 2019 Rachel Kushner