The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

In Los Gusanos, John Sayles assembles an expansive cast of characters, all of whom bear some relation—whether acknowledged or not—to the political events that marked the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion. Moreover, most of these characters lead lives still defined by that invasion; even in exile from their homeland, these Cubanos participate in the past and the present of the world from which they were severed. Marta de la Pena has inherited the revolutionary fervor from her father, Scipio, who is now bedridden by a stroke. Exempted from the original invasion because of her age, and never taken quite seriously because of her sex, Marta looks to redeem her father’s “heroic failure” by organizing a second attempt at the island. She is, in effect, a Cuban Joan-of-Arc-in-exile who looks to become her father’s third “son.” At heart, Marta probably aspires to martyrdom, but her immediate aim is to strike a blow against the Castro regime that took her father’s heart and her younger brother’s life and that turned her older brother from a political exile into a criminal thug. Marta collects the history of her island and of the revolution, taking to heart the idealism that spurred her family—and other like-minded Cubans—to political action.

Marta’s youngest brother, Ambrosio, comes closest to capturing the pure spirit of the rebellion. He is a poet and a historian; he records the experience of his training, of his indoctrination, of his brief fight for the Fulgencio Batista movement in his diary. This diary serves as one of the alternative narratives in Los Gusanos; it becomes the voice of Ambrosio, speaking to Marta and to the reader from the time of the invasion. Interleaved among Ambrosio’s...

(The entire section is 711 words.)