Guillermo Cabrera Infante 1929–
(Has also written under pseudonym of G. Cain) Cuban-born novelist, short story writer, essayist, critic, sketch writer, journalist, and translator.
The following entry presents an overview of Cabrera Infante's career through 1996. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 25, and 45.
Cabrera Infante is a Cuban-born writer noted for his wordplay, his use of humor and sexual imagery, and his opposition to the Communist regime that took power in Cuba in 1959. Initially a supporter of Fidel Castro's revolution and an official of the regime, Cabrera Infante left Cuba in 1965. Two years later he published Tres tristes tigres (1967; Three Trapped Tigers) his most critically acclaimed work. Like most of Cabrera Infante's fiction, the novel has a setting in pre-revolutionary Cuba, and makes extensive use of humorous and erotic wordplay. Cabrera Infante began his writing career as a film reviewer in the 1950s and continues to write essays, sketches, and nonfiction ranging from the whimsical to the somber.
The son of a journalist, Cabrera Infante grew up in Cuba during the 1930s and 1940s. He attended the University of Havana, and graduated in 1956. By that time he had already begun to publish film reviews under the pseudonym G. Cain, a shortened version of his own name. An opponent of Cuba's dictator, Fulgencio Batista, Cabrera Infante spent a brief period in prison for using "English profanities" in a short story published in the literary journal Bohemia. He later supported the Castro revolution against Batista. After the new government took power in 1959, Cabrera Infante received a post on the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and became director of the journal Lunes de Revolución. In 1961 Castro censored a film by Cabrera Infante's brother depicting Havana's night life during the Batista era and Cabrera Infante's revolutionary fervor cooled. He left Cuba for a diplomatic assignment in Belgium in 1965, and did not return. At about the same time, Cabrera Infante won Spain's Biblioteca Breva Prize for an unfinished novel that would be published, in greatly changed form, as Three Trapped Tigers in 1967. Cabrera Infante, who became a naturalized British citizen, participated in the translation of several of his works, and in 1986 published his first book written in English, Holy Smoke. Most of his work, however, has maintained its Cuban focus.
In 1993 he produced Mea Cuba, a collection of essays and other short fiction pieces on the subject of his homeland. In the same year he presented for the first time in English a collection of short stories called Writes of Passage that he had published in Havana three decades earlier.
Cabrera Infante's most well-known work is the novel Three Trapped Tigers, which he described to Rita Guibert in 1973 as "a joke lasting about five hundred pages." Written in the Cuban Spanish vernacular as it is spoken on the streets of Havana, the book is a narrative of the city's night life in the pre-Castro era. It is a tale filled with puns, double entendre, and other forms of wordplay, often humorous and sexual in nature. Cabrera Infante's second novel, La Habana para un infante difunto (1979; Infante's Inferno) also employed linguistic acrobatics, erotic themes, and a semi-autobiographical tale of a youth's initiation into sexual mysteries. Cabrera Infante has published several short-story collections in Spanish and English, as well as a number of nonfiction works. Among the latter are Un oficio del siglo XX (1963; A Twentieth-Century Job), a book of film reviews; Vista del amanecer en el trópico (1974; A View of Dawn in the Tropics), a collection of sketches that chronicles the history of repression in Cuba; and Holy Smoke (1986), a lighthearted look at the history of the cigar. Among his most notable works in the 1990s was Mea Cuba (1993), a collection of essays, criticism, and letters.
The rich linguistic material in Three Trapped Tigers made it a success with reviewers. Cabrera Infante's portrayal of a nighttime world in the novel earned comparisons to the "Nighttown" episode of James Joyce's Ulysses, and his whimsical use of language invited references not only to Joyce, but to Lewis Carroll. Cabrera Infante's continued reliance on intricate puns in his later work has subjected him to charges of literary indulgence. Alma Guillermoprieto, reviewing Mea Cuba, referred to the author as a "bombastic punster"; and Richard Eder, in a review of the same work, observed that Cabrera Infante's penchant for wordplay "energizes him, perhaps, but it depletes the reader." As one who has written in English and translated several of his works into that language, Cabrera Infante has been likened to Josef Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov, and has often been cited for his facility with a language not his own. His outspoken opposition to the Castro regime has invited equal helpings of praise and blame, and even those not overtly sympathetic to the regime have faulted Cabrera Infante for his tendency to use his writings as a platform for his political views.