Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

If From Cuba with a Song has a theme, it is best demonstrated in the middle section of the book, dedicated to the tale of Dolores Rondón. An ambitious and attractive mulatto, Dolores leaves her native Camaguey on the trail of Mortal Pérez’s political career. After reaching her zenith in the capital (Havana), she suddenly falls from fame and returns, penniless and defeated, to her hometown. The two narrators ask “what purpose Dolores Rondón’s life serves.” The answer solves the riddle of the meaning of Sarduy’s fiction: Nothing. Delicious Nothingness milkshake.” The “theme” of the novel, then, is that literature—and all forms of verbal communication—has no meaning, no transcendent message beyond its material substance as language.

In spite of the denial of ultimate categories in Sarduy’s fiction, the interweaving stories of From Cuba with a Song leave the lingering trace of the author’s preoccupation with the transcendent. This is done, however, in the paradoxical “yes and no” style of the novel. For example, the General opens up a store across the street from the Shanghai brothel that is ironically called the Divine Providence. Sarduy’s gesture is to disguise the longing for the absolute in terms of erotic desire. The encounter with Divinity is as impossible as the fulfillment of the libido. Both God and the wanted one fade and evade in the look of desire.

Sarduy’s characteristic mingling of...

(The entire section is 409 words.)