The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

From this radical critique of identity and selfhood stems Sarduy’s debunking of character, just as radical as his undermining of plot. If traditionally a character appears in a novel as a simulated person, with a name and psychological depth, From Cuba with a Song shows character to be only authorial pretension, fictional playacting. The “characters” in the novel are mere appearances—not of real persons, but rather of the language in which the text is written. Help and Mercy, the two metaphysical twins that run wild in the Self-Service cafeteria of “Curriculum cubense,” best exemplify Sarduy’s parodic use of character. Named after the popular expression “Help! Mercy!” in Cuban slang, the pair of females glide through From Cuba with a Song as copies of characters, with no pretension that they are, in effect, “real” people. On the contrary, the first scene of “Curriculum cubense” shows Help and Mercy as devout “mannequins” in a fake House of God. Later, in the Self-Service cafeteria, they are depicted as artificial, mobile creatures, their faces covered with layers of makeup. Help and Mercy attest the allure of mimicry in Sarduy’s fictional world: Outside appearance, camouflage, and dress constitute their only “psychology.” As sheer verbal surfaces, Help and Mercy (and, later, Clemency) are cosmetic coverups for the lack of a fixed identity—hence their uncanny ability to take on different masks.


(The entire section is 511 words.)

From Cuba with a Song Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mortal Pérez

Mortal Pérez (mohr-TAHL PEH-rehs), a common name from Dolores Rondón’s epitaph (“come, mortal, and see”) turned into a character. He is a blond Spaniard who speaks Castilian Spanish and who always possesses some attribute of power. He starts as an old general, when, in “By the River of Rose Ashes,” he falls in love with and relentlessly pursues Lotus Flower. At first a voyeur, he ends as a would-be assassin. In “Dolores Rondón,” he is a politician rising from provincial obscurity to national prominence as a senator. His fall comes when it is revealed that the Hawaiian dancer he procured for the president is a mulatto woman from his province. In “The Entry of Christ in Havana,” he is a young elusive lover ardently desired by Auxilio and Socorro. Later, he is identified with the wooden statue of Christ found by them in the Cathedral of the Cuban Santiago and is taken triumphantly to Havana. He disintegrates on the way and, finally, dies.


Auxilio (owk-SEE-lee-oh) and


Socorro (soh-KOH-rroh), metaphysical twins in perpetual transformation. (Both names mean “call for help” in Spanish, but they appear as “Help” and “Mercy” in some translations.) They start looking for God, only to find all the principal characters...

(The entire section is 544 words.)