Review: Réquiem Habanero por Fidel by J.J. Armas Marcelo
Walter Cepeda is a retired colonel of the Cuban State Security. His wife and daughter have left him. He now lives an obscure life with no real friends and drives a luxury tourist taxi, a present from the Revolution for his many years at the service of the dreadful Cuban secret police. One evening he gets a phone call from his exiled daughter saying the "Comandante" has died. Nobody knows about it in Cuba, as usual, and although Walter does not want to believe it, the news unleashes memories, contradictions and confusion in the old "seguroso".
This third Cuban-centered novel by Juan Jesus Armas Marcelo is narrated in first person and it seems — at times — to be an interior confession of someone who knows his world is falling apart and that nothing can be done to prevent it from happening. He knows there is no way back in time, and down deep he justifies his past life as a "defender of the gains of the Revolution" while he questions if it has been worth to living a life of sacrifices and efforts to create and defend "the society of the new man."
Armas Marcelo, a writer from the Canary Islands, mixes real-life figures such as Ché Guevara, Cuban poet Herberto Padilla, executed General Ochoa and even himself, with fictional ones like the protagonist, Cepeda, his wife and her exiled daughter, Belinda, in a believable way, although he is particularly redundant — even boring — in the passages where he describes the contradictions and conflicts between Padilla and the Cuban leadership.
Armas Marcelo is a good writer. He has visited Cuba many times, and seems to be well versed in its contemporary history, which has enabled him to get closer to the psychology of the islanders, to understand the pressing and complex problems of the more than 50 years of dictatorship, and to try to imitate — albeit not always accurately — the character and self-confident vernacular of Cubans.
By using the flow of the memories of his disenchanted main character as a stylistic conceit, Requiem Habanero por Fidel is a book that attempts to critically sum up, in a tragicomic way, the life lived (and still being lived) by Cubans under the Castro brothers' dictatorship.
Reviewer's notes: Seguroso is a derogatory term for members of the State Security Police or G-2. Comandante en Jefe is the term used in Cuba to refer to Fidel Castro