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.)