Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 230
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...
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- Critical Essays
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.)
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296
[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.
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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 has classified Tres tristes tigres as an open novel, that is, one that the reader can organize or rearrange to his own liking. Whether or not this is the case, the critic's opinion does emphasize the extent to which the novel's structure is experimental and helps to explain why the novel confounds the reader. (pp. 81-2)
Tres tristes tigres demands that the reader be extremely flexible in his approach to the novel, and that he judge it as an artistic creation that has both particular and total effects. The novel's organization causes the reader to confront, as the characters do, the chaos of existence. In this sense, he becomes a participant in the novel's organizational process, imposing order on a fragmented reality.
The best way to approach Tres tristes tigres is to appreciate each section for its own merits without attempting to relate it to an overall logical order. The novel is much more rewarding to the reader once he perceives that it is better not to categorize and organize reality. Organization, of course, gives us security and protects us, at least psychologically, from change. Tres tristes tigres defies these tendencies and overwhelms us with explosive bursts of creativity. These bursts expand themselves soon after coming into being and fall back into a formless void, victims of death…. Herein lies the ecstasy and tragedy of human existence, and the only salvation is to sustain the continuity of the creative process that allows man to rediscover and redefine himself constantly. (pp. 82-3)
Tres tristes tigres opens and closes with sections that capture or suggest rebellion against a society that has lost its way. It is a society devoid of any sense of purpose and is seriously committed to error. Energies are not released the way they should be, and, as a result, we have substitutes and perversions rather than creativity and genuineness. Like a rudderless ship that is guided by nonexisting lighthouses, its random motion produces a sense of giddiness even as it glides inexorably toward disaster. Cabrera Infante has described the nocturnal festival that his characters engage in as a "communion with deadly night sin." His description explains the attractions and pitfalls of the existence the novel portrays. His work also explores the possibilities of escape offered to the individual by the creative process, and this search is centered on sound and language.
The language of Tres tristes tigres is the most authentic that any Cuban writer has ever produced. Only the short-story writer Novás Calvo approaches Cabrera Infante's ability to capture the essence of his characters in the language they use. His language is authentic yet creative. Cabrera Infante accomplishes this without falling into the pitfalls that captured so many of the writers who preceded him, especially those who employed realistic and naturalistic techniques. Those writers were so intent on reproducing the language of their characters that creativity was suffocated. Words for them were individual symbols that defined their characters. They confused duplication with creativity and failed to see that words should not be regarded merely as symbols but as part of a symbolic process. Cabrera Infante succeeds where many did not, because he recognizes that he is capturing a process rather than an end result. Consequently, we see the world as his characters perceive it, as a place of dynamic change rather than static definition. (pp. 97-8)
In terms of sheer enjoyment, it would be difficult to name a work that surpasses Tres tristes tigres. It is an easy book to read because of its fresh humor and the continual sense of discovery it imparts. Tres tristes tigres contains a unique and successful combination of tragedy and comedy, contributing greatly to the novel's artistic success. This combination appeals directly to our emotions and intellect. However, it is not easy to understand the novel's meaning and significance. The novel's structure is particularly baffling and challenges the reader's concepts of form and order.
The characters in Tres tristes tigres search for order in a chaotic world and for meaning in a confused society. The creative force of the language contributes to the fragmentation of the work's structure, and the novel's arrangement is such that the reader experiences this process. There are contradictory forces operating in the novel that are moving the characters simultaneously toward death and rebirth. The fragmentation of form captures the essence of a social order in the process of dissolution, well on the way to destruction. On the other hand, the fragmentation of language can be regarded as the first stage of a new creative art. It is the force that is conjuring up new beings within a waning social order. Destructive and creative forces are operating at the same time, and the vehicle of these processes is language. It creates as it destroys, offers doom and hope, conveys inspiration as it defeats. (pp. 99-100)
Raymond D. Souza, "Cabrera Infante: Creation in Progress," in his Major Cuban Novelists: Innovation and Tradition (reprinted by permission of the University of Missouri Press; copyright © 1976 by the Curators of the University of Missouri), University of Missouri Press, 1976, pp. 80-100.
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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 writer implicitly works at converting a Havana vernacular into an international Spanish "novel." (pp. 333-34)
Despite his orality, this writer is not only a listener, but a reader of cosmopolitan dimensions. He links Cervantes and James Joyce…. For him Borges is the great Spanish American classic….
Cabrera "irritates the oyster" of the Spanish language in a much more direct and obvious way than Borges does. One of his main devices is the literal transcription of colloquial peculiarities…. [His] Anglo-Cubanism, the substitution of an acoustically equivalent consonant, and the emphatic hiatus (reinforced by glottal stop) between identical vowels, reflect popular speech-patterns which have seldom if ever been caught in writing before. (p. 334)
[The] best introduction to Tres tristes tigres is Auerbach's Mimesis: when the standard upper-class literary language is suddenly infiltrated by colloquial turns of phrase and thought, the effect may be not simply comic, but potentially revolutionary, bringing the lower classes into the text, recognizing their presence within the social fabric. (pp. 334-35)
Elias L. Rivers, "Cabrera Infante's Dialogue with Language," in MLN (© copyright 1977 by The Johns Hopkins University Press). Vol. 92, No. 2, March, 1977, pp. 331-35.
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[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.
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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 great pressure; to read a book like Tres tristes tigres … he must not only know a great deal but must also hold his own literary expectations in abeyance, paying close attention to the text's own rhetoric. Only by determining a work's "intrinsic genre" can the reader ever hope to read it fairly, and such a reading will result, in the case of Latin American narrative, in an esthetics of narrative based on satire. (p. 61)
The reader's first task in dealing with Tres tristes tigres is reconstruction. He begins by reassembling the text, making sense of what appears to be an agglomeration. He connects the pieces of the characters' lives as they appear in the text, like a quilt-maker constructing a whole out of scraps, until suddenly he sees a kind of nebulous totality, a whole fragment which points to a vast number of new totalities.
Tres tristes tigres, like Brás Cubas or Morel, is [an] elegiac text. Like the early poetry of Borges, it is concerned with documenting a loss, not only of the object observed but of the observer as well. Cabrera Infante, unlike [Adolfo Bioy Casares], is not as overtly concerned with the phoenix-like death-and-resurrection of the work of art out of the ashes of life, perhaps because he (like his characters) realizes that the two worlds, though tangential, are eternally separate. The world to which the text corresponds is dead, and the text can only be a metaphor, a reality of words with no specific reference to anything palpable.
The basic metaphor on which Tres tristes tigres is constructed is the notion that esthetic representation is a betrayal. The work of art cannot be about anything but itself, and since it is a translation of one mode into another, it cannot presume to have any higher status than its subject. Cabrera Infante's satire is a study of the idea of betrayal, both as a form and as a content. That is, one kind of betrayal may be substituted for another: if a translator calls the lions of a particular text sea lions, he has violated a trust; if a friend has lied to his friend, he has broken a bond; if a text pretends to capture scenes from various lives but succeeds only in giving versions of those scenes, then it too has betrayed its "promise" to the "original."
The satirist is, of course, satirized in Cabrera Infante's work. Silvestre, the putative "secretary of history," is his own subject. He must deform what he recalls of himself simply because of what the act of transcription entails. Silvestre is an implacable enemy of oblivion … and he is fully conscious of the inevitability of memory, the persistence of the past in its invasion of the present … but he himself is defeated because he can only give the shell of what he observes. Like the fruit growing near the Dead Sea, representation is a surface, devoid of real content, always promising something, always "about" something, but never anything. Within the text this emptiness, seen also as a kind of sterility, is reflected in the characters' constant word play.
Puns are a means whereby the characters generate the illusion of action. They create a verbal space, but this space is illusory because it is conceived in the mode of metaphor, of substitution, and not in the metonymic mode of flow. There is literally no place for the characters to go in the text because they have reached the end of their historical and cultural rope. Like Bioy's narrator, they are trapped on an island (Cuba here being as metaphoric as the island in Morel), and all their movement is circular, reminiscent also of the protagonists' trajectories in L'Immoraliste or Voyage au bout de la nuit. Like Bioy's narrator, they too will become art, but it is the cost that receives the emphasis here, a heavy price unmitigated by the love Bioy's narrator feels for Faustine. Individual salvation of the kind Bioy postulates is a poor consolation for Cabrera Infante's characters because it too is tainted by betrayal. There must be an interpreter, a Silvestre or the reader so often addressed by Silvestre. Committing oneself to language, as Borges seems to be saying in texts as disparate as "Borges and I" and "Tlön, Uqbar. Orbis Tertius" confers a provisional immortality on the subject, but it simultaneously subjugates the subject to the interpretations of the reader.
Metaphoric space, which the characters create when they make puns, and in which they reside after Silvestre writes down his version of what he has experienced, is in reality no space at all. It is for this reason that the characters exist only in each other's company; they are all mirror images of one another, reflections of reflections. Much is made of this in the relationship between Cué and Silvestre because other characters point out their being twins, although they in no way resemble each other physically. They constitute an ironic rejoinder to J. Hillis Miller's statement about characters in the Victorian novel: "In most Victorian novels the protagonist comes to know himself and to fulfill himself by way of other people." Cabrera Infante's characters are shadows no amount of contact can complete.
This condition is exemplified in the text by the death of a character who never actually appears. Bustrófedon, Cabrera Infante's Morelli, is a linguistic wizard, a pun master, and his death provokes an immense crisis in the lives of the other characters. They try to preserve his works (the parodic sequence "The Death of Trotsky Told by Various Cuban Writers Years After—or Before" is his), but, as the characters realize, his works are not he. He is lost forever. Moreover, he becomes a character in their memory, and finally becomes what they all become, words. For the reader, Bustrófedon was never anything but language, and if we never experience him directly he is nonetheless as "real" as Cué or Silvestre. His being absent is a sign of the absence that underlies the existence of all the characters. (pp. 65-7)
Cabrera Infante's text is, or aspires to be, the language of a particular place and time, or at least his version of it, and its being enclosed in a book signifies its being dead…. For Cabrera Infante …, the creation of the text, the verbal monument to the dead, is another betrayal, the act of having recourse to metaphor, because the actual subject is ephemeral. The text contains the ghost of ghosts, the remains of a language, itself a metaphor.
"Beguiling the hour" seems to be the principal occupation of Cabrera Infante's characters. They are dying with their milieu, like antediluvian beasts on the verge of extinction. Language is the only means left to them to dissimulate their despair. Like the digressions and interpolations in Greek romances, their verbal adventures give the illusion of expanding or widening time, but they are merely decorations. The world of Tres tristes tigres is sterile, except as the subject of a work of art, in the same way the world of Encolpius and Giton is a world which acknowledges itself to be without transcendence. Turning night into day, turning words inside out, being constantly in motion are all the means whereby Cabrera Infante's characters deceive themselves. It is just one more betrayal, one which leads both to death and to esthetic resurrection. (p. 68)
Alfred J. MacAdam, "Guillermo Cabrera Infante: The Vast Fragment," in his Modern Latin American Narratives: The Dreams of Reason (reprinted by permission of The University of Chicago Press; © 1977 by the University of Chicago), University of Chicago Press, 1977, pp. 61-8.
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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 by Castro's in 1967. Cabrera has since repudiated the 1964 version of View of Dawn by calling it "a book of absolute socialist realism" and emphasizing that "literature must only have to do with literature," and, presumably, not politics. The question, then, is: Why has Cabrera chosen to write this new  version?
Admirers who expect the wonderful exuberance, humor and inventiveness of Tigers will be disappointed. The new View of Dawn is a curiously austere and bitter book, far more reminiscent of the author's early style. His short stories of the '50s … were separated by 15 historical vignettes which reported with exemplary economy and detachment the atrocities of the Batista regime. View of Dawn in the Tropics stretches the same form to the limit with more than 100 sketches tracing the history of Cuba from the dawn of man to the dawning of the Revolution. However, the fragile craft of the vignette sinks under so much intention that one wonders if this is the same writer who warned readers of Tigers that "any similarity between literature and history is accidental."
The impact of Cabrera's vignettes of the '50s hinged upon the Cuban reader's recognition of the unnamed victims of Batista's atrocities. But what is the non-Cuban reader to make of such cryptic references in View of Dawn as "the son of a Spanish dancer and a mulatto barber," "the bald little man with the big moustache," or "the big black general"? Even those somewhat familiar with Cuban history may wonder whether one character is Marti and another Maceo or whether the appalling gangster-style killing reported on page 63 is one in which the young Fidel Castro was allegedly involved.
Perhaps Cabrera does not wish his reader to bother with who is who or what is what, but to read on inexorably towards some grim moral about the unchanging venality and brutality in Cuban history. My suspicion is that the fatalism and pessimism of this version of View of Dawn is the reversal, indeed the mirror image, of the socialist realism and optimism of that earlier version. Instead of the heroic guerrillas and liberating progress of 1964, we now have the villainous commissars and despotic regression of 1974.
Nevertheless, some of the sketches … have the paradoxical immediacy of good photographs, the illumination of a presence serving to emphasize the shadow of its essence. The vignettes are vivid but, somehow, their ultimate effect is ephemeral. Unlike the images of a good film whose overall impact is cohesive and cumulative, the impression left by these sketches is random and sporadic.
Dolores M. Martin, "Fictional Vignettes of Cuba's History," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), January 28, 1979, p. L4.
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[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 green wound."… The sketches in View of Dawn are almost exclusively portrayals of senseless death. Conquistadores turn a feast into a massacre because, receiving a friendly reception from the Indians, they "thought that so much courtesy was intended to kill them for sure." A young man running along a rooftop is shot by a soldier. From the days of the Spaniards through Castro the bloodshed has not ceased. But Cabrera Infante never descends into rationalization. For him it is enough that people have died. In drumming the theme of incessant violence, however, Cabrera Infante communicates more than outrage. He is mortified by what he has found in the histories and in the latest news…. But he is also bored by the inability of his countrymen to break free of the urge to slaughter. His country's history can be narrowed, as he shows in View of Dawn, to a single theme. He has no hope that the Cubans will turn around. One can only smile ironically, he says, and admire the island itself, "surviving all disasters, eternally washed by the Gulf Stream: beautiful and green, undying, eternal."
Paul T. Hornak. "Books in Brief: 'View of Dawn in the Tropics'," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1979; 150 East 35th St., New York, NY 10016), Vol. XXXI, No. 13, March 30, 1979, p. 434.
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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 exuberant Amaranta Ursula and Aureliano Buendía to La guaracha del macho Camacho, Puerto Rico's national saga of the guachafita, and now the work of the Cuban Quevedo.
Be this as it may, Cabrera Infante's latest effort decidedly has a lot of Bildung and a little of Roman, although it ultimately never comes across as a combination of both terms but rather as a requiem for a child wise in the ways of the street, as well as a requiem for everything gone with the wind, for the Havana that time has swept away. In other words, it narrates the adolescence and early manhood of a nameless pícaro of dubious identity and even more dubious aspirations, who might be Guillermo Cabrera Infante. If such is the case, it is an author bigger than life, fictionalized and subtly transformed by time and nostalgia…. Cabrera Infante's last name clearly appears in the title La Habana para un infante difunto (Havana for a Dead Infant[e] or Prince), a pun that parodies Maurice Ravel's piano piece "Pavane pour une infante défunte" (1909). The play on words is even stronger in Spanish, since pavana is only a phoneme removed from Habana.
Another formidable protagonist that appears in the title is Old Havana, probably the city between 1941 and 1948…. This time frame is roughly a decade before that of Three Trapped Tigers (1965), the author's other remembrance of things past, which focuses largely on the decade of the fifties and the night life of Cuba's capital. Other emblems that grace the black-and-white cover are photography, cinema, voyeurism, a passion for language and politics, as well as eroticism. The photo of the urban square of Havana's Parque Central contains a still shot with the portrait camera of an aging park photographer, the monument of José Martí in the far background, and a cast iron flagpole. As in Un oficio del siglo XX (1963), film is often a vehicle of narration as well as a metaphor of life, ultimately determining the circular structure of a "función continua" (continuous showing) limited by the "Aquí llegamos" (Here's where we came in) that opens and closes a brilliantly written, sad, hilarious, bawdy book. (pp. 435-36)
Klaus Müller-Bergh, "Fiction: 'La Habana para un infante difunto'," in World Literature Today (copyright 1981 by the University of Oklahoma Press). Vol. 55, No. 3, Summer, 1981, pp. 435-36.
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JORGE H. VALDÉS
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 murders of the national governments which followed, the Castro-led revolutionary movement against the tyranny of Batista, the perilous exodus of anti-Castro Cubans, and the violations of the human rights of conterrevolutionary political prisoners.
In an attempt to be both moving and convincing, Cabrera Infante has compiled a sequence of vignettes based on a variety of sources—photos, engravings, historical data, telephone conversations—whose authenticity he sometimes questions and which he presents with apparent objectivity. The illusory detachment is an artistic means used by the author to impress his personal and, at times, highly fictionalized view of past and recent events on the reader. Moreover, Cabrera Infante's seemingly objective approach, in combination with a careful selection and structuring of the material, allows him to make a convincing case for his dire view of Cuban history as a repetitive and often accidental course of events always leading to an unhappy ending.
Jorge H. Valdés, "Fiction: 'View of Dawn in the Tropics'," in Best Sellers (copyright © 1981 Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation), Vol. 41, No. 9, December, 1981, p. 326.