Infante, G(uillermo) Cabrera
G(uillermo) Cabrera Infante 1929–
(Also wrote under pseudonym of G. Cain) Cuban-born novelist, short story writer, screenwriter, journalist, critic, editor, and translator.
Although now a British citizen, Cabrera Infante is often described as one of Latin America's most important writers. Loosely structured and linguistically inventive, his fiction resists traditional literary classifications. It therefore demands flexibility of approach from both critics and readers.
Censored in both Cuba and Spain, Cabrera Infante has written graphic, satiric portrayals of his native country. Among the most acclaimed of these is his Así en la paz como en la guerra: cuentos, a composite of stories, sketches, and sociological commentary dealing with the terrors of the Batista regime.
Cabrera Infante is best known, however, for his Tres tristes tigres (Three Trapped Tigers). Blending comedy and tragedy, this novel portrays Havana nightlife on the eve of Batista's fall. Written primarily in the language of the Cuban streets and narrated by several speakers, Tres tristes tigres pictures a society devolving into physical and spiritual confusion. Within this society, language sounds bizarre as it is reshaped by people struggling for new means of communication. Events are sudden and inexplicable. As the revolution looms, in the words of Raymond D. Souza, Cabrera Infante's characters search for "order in chaos, permanence in a realm of change, infinity in a world of limitations."
(See also CLC, Vol. 5 and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 85-88.)
[Vista del amanecer en el trópico (View of Dawn in the Tropics)]—whether a novel or collection of stories is unclear, or perhaps unimportant, as proven by the use of both terms on the jacket and cover of this edition respectively—seems to be a revision of the fragments Cabrera Infante excised from Tres tristes tigres and which were part of an earlier and identically titled manuscript, winner of the Premio Biblioteca Breve in 1964. Censorship prevented the winning manuscript from being published in Spain in its original form. The result, then, has been publication of two books: first, the famed novel, and now this other text.
In comparison with the author's own previous descriptions of Vista, this final version is more like a complete rewriting of the socialist realist text he had originally conceived for these fragments…. It is a collection of moments in Cuban history whose structure recalls the author's first books and whose characters … parade anonymously in historical and anecdotal scenes described in tones that range from pathetic to ironic. Therefore, because of its paradoxical nature, a chronicle silent about the facts, Vista necessarily becomes a Borgesian intertextual exercise in reference to both written and unwritten history—the first being Fernando Portuondo's classic school text … which is alluded to explicitly throughout the book, and the second being the insistence upon anecdotes...
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Raymond D. Souza
In [Lezama Lima's] Paradiso, the universe is viewed as an enigma but with a definite design and form, but in Tres tristes tigres it is presented as a realm of chance. Chaos is not a frightening condition for Guillermo Cabrera Infante; and one could almost say that he finds it extremely fascinating and with endless possibilities. He regards the universe more as a creative explosion of a continual process of appearance and dissipation. There is a great sense of movement in Tres tristes tigres, created by the author's experimentation with language and his radical approach to structure. This movement is enhanced by his humor that delights his readers even though they sometimes suspect that the author's wit is directed at them. As the reader proceeds through Tres tristes tigres, he sometimes feels that there is a whimsical imp peering at him from the letters of the text. The universe is presented as a huge comedy rather than an enigma, a gigantic folly perpetrated by some unknown being. (p. 80)
The setting in Tres tristes tigres takes place in Havana in the summer of 1958, that is, just a few months before the revolutionary government came into power in January of 1959. However, the work is not a political one, although it does capture an era that is coming to an end and the feeling of disintegration that characterizes an apocalyptic period. The novel opens with the English word Showtime!, and we are...
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Elias L. Rivers
The tongue-twisting title of Tres tristes tigres makes the reader immediately aware, at the elemental phonetic level, of language as an opaque substance, not a classically transparent and fully codified medium. Tres tristes tigres, when first published in Spain in 1967, caused a stir in the Spanish-speaking world. While some passages are readily accessible to any reader, others are obscured by Cuban vernaculars in phonetic transcription and by word-plays and allusions of many different kinds. A multiplicity of "voices" engage in narrative, dialogue and soliloquy. It is a text which fascinates as it eludes and frustrates; the over-all narrative sense is by no means obvious. (p. 333)
Language [in Tres tristes tigres] is a central theme and problem directly connected with the author's striving to capture a recent past which is still echoing in his mind: the conversational night-life of Havana shortly before the fall of the Batista régime. Nostalgic attraction and disgust are embedded in an anti-literary language which Cabrera Infante simultaneously transcribes and invents as the basis of his text. He is aware that textual transcription and composition falsify the voices of the street and night clubs; but only in this way can he give permanent, that is written, form to his memories. His caustic inconoclasm and black humor work explicitly against the establishment of an autonomous literary language; at the same time...
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[Exorcismos de esti(l)o] contains graphic razzle-dazzle and verbal rat-tat-tat [which] masks one of the most innovative and daring experiments with the Spanish language from one of the most significant Latin American writers today. For the potpourri of puns, parodies, pastiches, word squares and other jeux d'esprit belies the intrinsic earnestness of Cabrera Infante's work…. [Exorcismos de esti(l)o consists of] hilarious parodies of authors, literary genres and schools of criticism: from Plutarch, Shakespeare and Quevedo to St. John of the Cross; fables which Aesop, La Fontaine or Samaniego never dared to write; and painful needling of the Tel Quel group.
As we might guess from sections titled "Acido (P)Rúsico" and "Marxismas," the targets are politically predictable at times and turn out to be prominent figures of the Cuban Revolution, Stalinism, the Moscow trials, as well as the inherent contradictions of Communist party orthodoxy. Occasionally the author waxes METAPHYSICAL/-PHORICAL in dealing with the essence of time, censorship, freedom of thought and expression, art as craft and unalienated activity, the meaning of literature and its role as a mode of cognition. Finally, it is not surprising, for a man who has tasted the bitter bread of exile, that the invocation of the Holy Name which clears the place of evil spirits be CUBA. This is quite apparent in the affectionate...
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ALFRED J. MacADAM
While Cabrera Infante does not share [Julio] Cortázar's didactic attitude toward literature, their texts, Tres tristes tigres and Rayuela, are remarkably similar in that they overwhelm the reader with an avalanche of fragments, pieces which only cohere after memory links them. Cabrera Infante, unlike Cortázar, does not feel impelled to instruct: he assumes the existence of a public that will appreciate his scrapbook technique and his depiction of a lost milieu. This public would share the archeological tastes of the readers of Joyce or Proust, and would not be jarred by the discontinuities of satire or the need to have a familiarity with pre-Castro Havana. The reader of Latin American satire is under great pressure; to read a book like Tres tristes tigres … he must not only know a great deal but must also hold his own literary expectations in abeyance, paying close attention to the text's own rhetoric. Only by determining a work's "intrinsic genre" can the reader ever hope to read it fairly, and such a reading will result, in the case of Latin American narrative, in an esthetics of narrative based on satire. (p. 61)
The reader's first task in dealing with Tres tristes tigres is reconstruction. He begins by reassembling the text, making sense of what appears to be an agglomeration. He connects the pieces of the characters' lives as they appear in the text, like a quilt-maker constructing a whole out of...
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Dolores M. Martin
Confrontation and censorship notwithstanding, the '60s were prodigious years for the Latin American novel in general and for the Cuban in particular. Among the most astonishing of these novels was Cabrera's Three Trapped Tigers…. This work is a dazzling assault on Spanish speech by Cuban street-talk, a delightful dissolving of stony, stodgy Castilian prose into something resembling the nonsense of Lewis Carroll, with the bawdiness of Joyce.
View of Dawn in the Tropics was the original title of a much earlier and very different version of Three Trapped Tigers which won a Spanish prize but was nonetheless banned by Franco's government in 1964 just as Tigers would be banned by Castro's in 1967. Cabrera has since repudiated the 1964 version of View of Dawn by calling it "a book of absolute socialist realism" and emphasizing that "literature must only have to do with literature," and, presumably, not politics. The question, then, is: Why has Cabrera chosen to write this new  version?
Admirers who expect the wonderful exuberance, humor and inventiveness of Tigers will be disappointed. The new View of Dawn is a curiously austere and bitter book, far more reminiscent of the author's early style. His short stories of the '50s … were separated by 15 historical vignettes which reported with exemplary economy and detachment the atrocities of the Batista regime. View of...
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Paul T. Hornak
[View of Dawn in the Tropics] is a history of Cuba in sketches that draw upon fact but read like fiction. The sketches run at longest three pages; the shortest is 15 words. Characters—many of them historical personages—have no names. Scenes are set in the mountains, in the city, on the highway, without further identification. They are placed in time only by their references to engravings as opposed to photographs, and by the appearance of machine-guns. The past is a mystery, Cabrera Infante contends; it comes clear not through analysis but through imagination. Thus he has cast his imagination back to the moment Cuba rose from the sea. From the very first it reminds him of bloodshed: Cuba is like "a long green wound."… The sketches in View of Dawn are almost exclusively portrayals of senseless death. Conquistadores turn a feast into a massacre because, receiving a friendly reception from the Indians, they "thought that so much courtesy was intended to kill them for sure." A young man running along a rooftop is shot by a soldier. From the days of the Spaniards through Castro the bloodshed has not ceased. But Cabrera Infante never descends into rationalization. For him it is enough that people have died. In drumming the theme of incessant violence, however, Cabrera Infante communicates more than outrage. He is mortified by what he has found in the histories and in the latest news…. But he is also bored by the inability of his...
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Guillermo Cabrera Infante's [La Habana para un infante difunto]—autobiography, novel, biography or erotic fantasy of a precocious Cuban don Juan—is a tropical education sentimentale defying generic classification. If nine-year-old New Yorkers rob banks, their uninhibited Latin American counterparts father children, or dream about it. Feminism may be alive and well (and living in Argentina), Severo Sarduy may idolize an Indian friend in the pages of Vuelta …, but machismus is far from moribundus…. In any case, Latin American literature certainly does present some of the more viable, heroic, heterosexual alternatives, from Macondo's exuberant Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano Buendía to La guaracha del macho Camacho, Puerto Rico's national saga of the guachafita, and now the work of the Cuban Quevedo.
Be this as it may, Cabrera Infante's latest effort decidedly has a lot of Bildung and a little of Roman, although it ultimately never comes across as a combination of both terms but rather as a requiem for a child wise in the ways of the street, as well as a requiem for everything gone with the wind, for the Havana that time has swept away. In other words, it narrates the adolescence and early manhood of a nameless pícaro of dubious identity and even more dubious aspirations, who might be Guillermo Cabrera Infante. If such is...
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Jorge H. ValdéS
JORGE H. VALDÉS
Highly reminiscent of the grimness of both Goya's Caprichos (from which the opening epigraph is taken) and Los desastres de la guerra, [View of Dawn in the Tropics] is a personal view of the history of Cuba from a time well before that of the first inhabitants down to the present. It is a tragic, fatalistic, ironic, sarcastic, and, at times, humorous account of a series of events linked by violence and suffering, such as the massacre of the native Indians by the Spanish conquistadores, the bloody suppression of uprisings of slaves and peasant workers against the landowning establishment, the arduous struggle for independence and the political tortures and murders of the national governments which followed, the Castro-led revolutionary movement against the tyranny of Batista, the perilous exodus of anti-Castro Cubans, and the violations of the human rights of conterrevolutionary political prisoners.
In an attempt to be both moving and convincing, Cabrera Infante has compiled a sequence of vignettes based on a variety of sources—photos, engravings, historical data, telephone conversations—whose authenticity he sometimes questions and which he presents with apparent objectivity. The illusory detachment is an artistic means used by the author to impress his personal and, at times, highly fictionalized view of past and recent events on the reader. Moreover, Cabrera Infante's...
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