Guillermo Cabrera Infante Infante, G(uillermo) Cabrera - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.)

Enrico-Mario Santi

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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 and legends … drawn from Cuban lore.

Despite some obvious sentimental weaknesses in the last scenes, the overall result is a dazzling—though by comparison to some of his earlier texts, modest—experiment in the dialectical relationship between history and fiction by one of Latin America's most innovative writers.

Enrico-Mario Santí, "Fiction: 'Vista del amanecer en el trópico'," in Books Abroad (copyright 1976 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 50, No. 1, Winter, 1976, p. 123.

Raymond D. Souza

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 exposed to the inane chatter of the master of ceremonies in one of Havana's leading nightclubs. We are immediately thrust into the nocturnal setting that constitutes a major part of the novel, and we are left with the impression of a superficial and casual world that is in a chaotic state. Before the main show begins, the MC introduces several people who are in the audience, and many of them reappear in the novel. After these introductions are made and the MC has had the opportunity to tell several absurd jokes in English and Spanish, the section closes with the words Curtains up! The reader has been introduced to an artificial situation that exists in a real world and yet exercises a strange attraction over him. It is a place where reality and illusion blend and the show is about to begin.

In addition to a Prologue and Epilogue, the novel is divided into eight sections. The novel contains a mixture of several separate story lines, and there are narrators or voices that are not always identified. As a result, the reader gets the impression that the novel has little structure, and the emphasis placed on creative language enhances this sensation. In many respects, Tres tristes tigres represents an attempt to capture essence in language itself, and the language of the work is freed from the authority of logic. This freedom gives the novel spontaneity, which is one of the novel's greatest assets, but it also creates a sense of disorder in the reader. The structure of Tres tristes tigres is a problem for the critic who tries to be consistent in his traditional methods of analysis, because the different sections in the novel demand diverse approaches. Tres tristes tigres is a good example of the difficulties that criticism can have in keeping up with innovative works.

Cabrera Infante's work is a novel to which neither the reader nor the critic can bring traditional concepts of form or structure. The novel, for example, is plotless and could be considered as a collection of many stories or narrations. One critic...

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Elias L. Rivers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 410 words.)

Klaus MüLler-Bergh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


[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 remembrance of things past and in the nostalgic silhouette which concludes the book—"The Island," an outline of Cuba literally rising from a sea of words, made from the word mar.

Klaus Müller-Bergh, "Verse: 'Exorcismos de esti(l)o'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1977 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 51, No. 2, Spring, 1977, p. 253.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Dolores M. Martin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Paul T. Hornak

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[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...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Klaus MüLler-Bergh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Jorge H. ValdéS

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 286 words.)