Cabrera Infante, Guillermo (Short Story Criticism)
Guillermo Cabrera Infante 1929–-
(Has also written under the pseudonym G. Cain) Cuban-born novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, scriptwriter, editor, journalist, nonfiction writer, translator, and poet.
Guillermo Cabrera Infante is considered one of Latin America's most original and influential writers. Much of his fiction is set in Havana, where he was raised, and details the repressive and violent social and political climate during the Fulgencio Batista regime prior to the 1959 Cuban Revolution.
Cabrera Infante was born in Gibara, a small city on the northern coast of Cuba. His parents, Guillermo Cabrera and Zoila Infante, founded the local Communist party and were arrested in 1936 because of their political activities. Cabrera Infante was seven years old when his parents were imprisoned under Fulgencio Batista's rule. Following their release from prison, Cabrera Infante's parents continued to suffer political persecution. Blacklisted and unable to find work in Gibara, Cabrera Infante's father decided to move his impoverished family to Havana, where Cabrera Infante later attended the University of Havana. Cabrera Infante developed an interest in literature and left the university in 1948 to pursue a literary career. He edited the journal Bohemia, founded the literary magazine Nueva generación, and helped establish the Cinemateca de Cuba (Film Library of Cuba). By 1952, Cabrera Infante's writing was censored for its political content, reflecting the author's clandestine activity against the Batista regime. When Fidel Castro seized power in 1959, Cabrera Infante became involved with the new government, serving on the Bureau of Cultural Affairs and as the cultural attaché to Brussels. Following Castro's rise to power, Cabrera Infante also became editor of Lunes de Revolución, the literary supplement to the pro-Castro newspaper Revolución. In 1961, Castro disbanded Lunes de Revolución when its editors protested the censorship of a documentary film directed by Cabrera Infante's brother that depicted Havana's nightlife during the height of Batista's rule. Cabrera Infante published his first short fiction collection, Así en la paz como en la guerra (In Peace as in War) in 1960. After leaving Cuba in 1965, Cabrera Infante eventually settled in London.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Cabrera Infante's short fiction primarily deals with Cuba's political turmoil. The short stories in Así en la paz como en la guerra underscore the author's contempt for the Batista dictatorship. “Balada de plomo y yerro” (“Ballad of Lead and Error”), one of the short stories in the collection, takes place in the gangster world of Cuba during the 1950s where political assassination and murders were carried out by the same people the author attempts to provoke in the story. Throughout “Balada de plomo y yerro,” a drunken American sings an obscene song in English and, on the grounds that the foul language was an “affront to common decency,” Batista's censors jail and fine the author. Cabrera Infante later repudiated Así en la paz como en la guerra as overly realistic at the expense of creativity. Vista del amanecer en el trópico (1974; A View of Dawn in the Tropics), the author's second short fiction collection, has drawn criticism because of its similarity in style and subject matter to Así en la paz como en la guerra.
Both as a novelist and short story writer, Cabrera Infante is praised for his narrative skills, vivid imagery, irreverence, and biting insights. Some critics have compared Cabrera Infante's writing style to that of Ernest Hemingway because the author often intersperses his long, descriptive sentences with short, staccato statements. Other critics have compared Cabrera Infante to Josef Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov because he has written and translated some of his works in English, showing facility with a language other than his own. Cabrera Infante's writing fills the reader “with a heightened awareness of injustice and even evil,” said critic Terry J. Peavler.
Así en la paz como en la guerra [In Peace as in War] 1960
Vista del amanecer en el trópico [A View of Dawn in the Tropics] 1974
Un oficio del siglo XX [as G. Cain] (criticism) 1963
Tres tristes tigres [Three Trapped Tigers] (novel) 1967
Wonderwall (screenplay) 1968
Vanishing Point (screenplay) 1970
Under the Volcano (screenplay) 1972
O (essays) 1975
Exorcismos de estilo (essays, poetry, and prose fragments) 1976
Arcadia todas las noches (lectures) 1978
La Habana para un Infante difunto [Infante's Inferno] (novel) 1979
Holy Smoke (nonfiction) 1985
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SOURCE: “Guillermo Cabrera Infante's ‘Vista del amanecer en el tropico’ and the Generic Ambiguity of Narrative,” in Studies in the Contemporary Spanish-American Short Story, University of Missouri Press, 1979, pp. 110-120.
[In the essay below, which originally appeared in Caribe in 1977, Foster explores Cabrera Infante's narrative approach in View of Dawn in the Tropics.]
El general preguntó la hora y un edecán se acercó rápido a musitar: “La que usted quiera, señor Presidente”. (p. 99)1
While it may be true that Vista del amanecer en el trópico owes its title as well as many of its narrative segments to material left over from the author's Tres tristes tigres (1967), it is undeniable that the distance separating the two works is great and that Cabrera Infante's most recent work of fiction represents a marked change in his writings.2 The following points constitute basic features of Vista that any adequate characterization of the work—whether seen as a fragmentary novel or as a loosely connected series of stories3—must account for:
1. Narrative texture is the most noteworthy feature. We claim that the texture of a work is the direct manifestation of underlying structures, of its écriture as text. Yet, these...
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SOURCE: “Bad Art and Good Intentions,” in The Nation, New York, Vol. 227, No. 15, November 4, 1978, pp. 477-78.
[In the following review, Pardo faults Cabrera Infante's use of the prose vignette form in View of Dawn in the Tropics.]
Guillermo Cabrera Infante's new book, View of Dawn in the Tropics, is a curious example of what can happen when a writer returns to the scenes of his early successes. His admirers will look in vain for the freshness and charm of his first book of short stories or the wild and sometimes exciting verbal experimentation of his first novel. This collection of 101 historical vignettes, printed on 145 largely empty pages, is an attempt, Micheneresque in its audacity and Hemingwayesque in the laconism of its style, to tell the story of Cuba from its geological formation to the present day and for all eternity, but it succeeds only in making one wonder at the immensity of the author's hubris. What, one puzzles, was he thinking of?
The answer lies in Cabrera Infante's earlier work, to which View of Dawn in the Tropics is related by both title and narrative technique. The title was initially used for an earlier novel which won the Seix Barral prize in Barcelona in 1964. Banned by the Spanish censors because of its prorevolutionary passages, it was expurgated and rewritten by the author and resubmitted with a new title, Three Trapped...
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SOURCE: “Fictional Vignettes of Cuba's History,” in Book World—The Washington Post, January 28, 1979, p. L4.
[In the following assessment of View of Dawn in the Tropics, Martin considers the vignettes “austere and bitter,” adding, “unlike the images of a good film whose overall impact is cohesive and cumulative, the impression left by these sketches is random and sporadic.”]
According to Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, he grew up in an atmosphere of “misery, promiscuity and neglect,” one of a family of five living in one room and often subsisting on a diet of coffee and milk. How is it, one wonders, that this grandson of a destitute cane-cutter, son of a militant communist worker and product of impeccable proletarian origin, has evolved into one of the most outspoken foes of the Cuban Revolution?
After the fall of Batista in 1959, Cabrera became the editor of Lunes, the literary supplement of the daily Revolución and possibly the most lively cultural review ever published in Cuba. Its independent policies, however, soon incurred the wrath of orthodox party members, who shut down Lunes in 1961 because of the “paper shortage.” The incident led to the first open confrontation between the regime and Cuban intellectuals, a confrontation that culminated in 1967 with the widely known censorship of the poet Padilla. The last...
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SOURCE: In a review of View of Dawn in the Tropics, inNomads, Exiles, & Emigres: The Rebirth of the Latin American Narrative, The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1980, pp. 65-9.
[In the following excerpt, Schwartz describes vignettes in View of Dawn in the Tropics as imaginative and experimental, and provides an overview of the collection.]
Cabrera Infante's latest novel, View of Dawn in the Tropics, is experimental, but is absolutely nothing like his first in style, form, rhythm, size, or characterization. View is a shorter work, only 141 pages, consisting mainly of a series of small, ironic sketches tracing Cuban history from its earliest times to our own. It contains none of the linguistic pyrotechnics (palindromes, anagrams, etc.), the black (or white) pages, diagrams, drawings, parodies, visual poems, and confusing narrative voices of its predecessor. View is a somber work, a serious experience, a sobering jolt after TTT [Three Trapped Tigers]. It contains 103 sections narrated by a single voice (probably Cabrera Infante himself) on history, geography, war, death, and escape. It represents a serious condemnation of Castro's regime.
The series of vignettes contain many cinematic devices. The single unifying pose of the sometimes-elusive narrator is his insistence upon looking at old photographs and interpreting them for us. His...
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SOURCE: “‘Vistas of Dawn in the (Tristes) Tropics': History, Fiction, Translation,” in World Literature Today, Vol. 61, No. 4, Autumn, 1987, pp. 548-53.
[In the following essay, Levine, who translated View of Dawn in the Tropics into English, addresses the collection's origin and major influences, as well as its principal themes.]
HISTORY IS A STORY
Vista del amanecer en el trópico (1974; Eng. View of Dawn in the Tropics, 1978) was one of the original titles of the book that became Tres tristes tigres (1964; Eng. Three Trapped Tigers, (1971), a novel that was going to counterpoint Guillermo Cabrera Infante's carnevale to the satyrs and nymphs of Havana nightlife with somber documentary vignettes of history in the making—the revolution against Batista which ended in the victory of Fidel Castro. “Both a chronicle and a Utopian vision of that moment, the original novel was a view of the tropical dawn of Cuba, the dawn of a new historical age,” Emir Rodríguez Monegal wrote in a review for Plural of the work that finally did become Vista del amanecer en el trópico in 1974.1
However, in 1965 the self-exiled Infante, convinced that the revolutionary government was turning into a repressive regime, particularly after the censorship of the film P.M. and after other restrictive measures,...
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SOURCE: “A scrapbook of oppression,” in Times Literary Supplement, January 20, 1989, p. 58.
[Below, Rankin maintains that Cabrera Infante's View of Dawn in the Tropics fuses myth and history and is informed by “an exile's perspective.”]
View of Dawn in the Tropics is a brief and poignant history of Cuba, related in 117 sections. These vignettes, fables and snapshot descriptions vary in length from a paragraph to four pages, and their first lines are logged in the index as if they were prose poems. This post-modern technique of making a history from a mosaic of fragments has been employed by the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano in his epic trilogy Memory of Fire, but in G. Cabrera Infante's hands the method is also reminiscent of the Extraordinary Tales collated by the Argentines, Borges and Bioy Casares. Here factual history is worn down into fictive myth: the clutter of names and dates and elaborate particularity have been polished away to leave emblematic figures such as “the black general”, “the old soldier” and “the comandante”, whose violent fates are laconically described.
Key to the book is the first word of the title. As one would expect from this pun-loving writer, “view” has several meanings. In the sense of “opinion”, the exiled Cabrera Infante's view of his native land since Fidel Castro took power thirty years ago is clear:...
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SOURCE: “Cabrera Infante's Undertow,” in Structures of Power, edited by Terry J. Peavler and Peter Standish, State University of New York Press, 1996, pp. 125-40.
[In the following excerpt, Peavler compares Cabrera Infante's short fiction with his more popular works, and asserts that “in Así en la paz como en la guerra he published some of the finer short stories ever penned by a Spanish American.”]
Guillermo Cabrera Infante's declarations (and declamations) on the subject of politics, particularly vis-à-vis the writer, are perhaps only slightly more extensive than his denials of its importance in his own writings. Scholars, for the most part, follow his suggestions on how to read his works, stressing their apolitical nature, while acknowledging the political content only of Así en la paz como en la guerra, a book that the author himself has faulted repeatedly for being misguided (nonetheless he recently collaborated in the English translation, Writes of Passage, which omits only the highly charged vignettes of the original). Even though the historical sweep of Vista del amanecer en el trópico is widely recognized and commented upon, it too is generally discussed in aesthetic rather than social or political terms. Nonetheless, if one accepts the idea that even highly aesthetic literature may seek to advance a social agenda, although that agenda may be presented...
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SOURCE: “The Apprentice Storyteller,” in Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds, University of Texas Press, 1996, pp. 47-56.
[In this excerpted chapter from Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds, the author traces Cabrera Infante's development as a writer, and provides insight into his first book, Así en la paz como en la guerra.]
Of all Cabrera Infante's activities in the 1950s, creative writing was the least consuming and the most casual. His first story, which was born of an idle boast and a dare, was successfully published and richly compensated for, a fortunate circumstance for such a young writer. Although that initial attainment undoubtedly stimulated his interest and confidence, if for no other reason than for the financial reward he received, it is perfectly human to distrust success when it comes too easily. He was, of course, in the process of finding his own voice by experimenting with different forms and by adapting various narrative styles, and between 1947 and 1960 he composed some twenty stories and submitted several of them to national literary contests. Many of these works appeared in journals like Bohemia, Carteles, Ciclón, and Lunes de Revolución, but his career as a creative writer at that time was random and unfocused. This was not the case in the film reviews he wrote for Carteles during the same period—there...
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Alvarez-Borland, Isabel. “Readers, Writers, and Interpreters in Cabrera Infante's Texts.” World Literature Today 61, No. 4 (Autumn 1987): 553-58.
Describes Cabrera Infante's works published between 1964 and 1974, including View of Dawn in the Tropics,as “fictions of interpretation.”
Additional coverage of Cabrera Infante's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: Contemporary Authors, Vol. 85-88; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 29; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 5, 25, 45; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 113; DISCovering Authors Modules: Multicultural; Hispanic Literature Criticism; Hispanic Writers; and Major 20th-Century Writers.
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