(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cabrera Infante’s inferno centers on women or, rather, on their ultimate inaccessibility even when attainable. The twelve-year-old narrator, an Alexander Portnoy avant la lettre, dreams about love and cerebrates about sex in a rumpled, one-room tenement apartment. His father, one of the founders of the clandestine Cuban Communist Party, has recently moved the family to Havana and there started to work in the newly created party newspaper, Hoy. It is 1941, and the spindly adolescent has the impression that he has died and gone to heaven. He is mesmerized by the trolley cars, dazzled by the lights and by the equally luminous characters who people the tenement building, veritable walking novels who enact the human comedy a mere step from his door. Life can well imitate art because art is so much better than life (at least in the hero’s mind) that it need not fear the competition. One art form, especially, has thrilled the narrator ever since a friend of the family took the narrator and his brother to see a double feature one memorable Sunday. From then on, films become the only lasting passion that he will know. They are made even better because, in the womblike darkness of seedy and not-so-seedy theaters, the films become amalgamated with erotic experience: “In the pitch-black theaters, platonic caves before the screen, the pursuit of sex interfered with my passion for films, the contact of flesh awakening me from my movie dreams.” Watching and feeling his way simultaneously, the hero fulfills the screen dreams that whet his appetite: picking up women in the dark, rubbing elbows, and squeezing thighs.

Time passes, but the heart is a lonely hunter. One passion leads to another, and all that remains of these afternoon loves are memories. The tactile memories become literature (as in Infante’s Inferno itself); the visual memories are churned out as film criticism when, not surprisingly, the narrator becomes the film critic for a well-known Cuban weekly, Carteles. Age can barely keep pace with the hero’s ever-mounting lust (even if he seldom gets the many women for whom he pines). His cronies’ attempts to initiate him (in a brothel) turn out to be...

(The entire section is 902 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cabrera Infante, Guillermo. “Wit and Wile with Guillermo Cabrera Infante.” Interview by Suzanne Jill Levine. Americas 47 (July-August, 1995): 24-29. In this interview, the Cuban-born author discusses his career and the influences that have shaped it. He talks about his Cuban and British roots, his love of puns, and his interest in film and music. A good source of background information.

Rogers, Michael, et al. “Classic Returns” Library Journal 123 (September 1, 1998): 224. Offers brief reviews of reprinted books, including Infante’s Inferno.

Souza, Raymond D. Guillermo Cabrera Infante: Two Islands, Many Worlds. Austin: University of Texas, 1996. An informative and lively biography of one of the most prominent contemporary Cuban writers. Souza’s work offers intriguing insight into Cabrera Infante’s family history as well as his literary career.

Steinberg, Sybil, and Jonathan Bing. “Notes.” Publishers Weekly 245 (June 15, 1998): 44-45. This article reviews several books, including Infante’s Inferno. Although the review of Cabrera Infante’s book is brief, it provides valuable insight into the novel.

Vargas Llosa, Mario. “Touchstone.” The Nation 266 (May 11, 1998): 56-57. Vargas Llosa offers a tribute to Cabrera Infante, commenting that “from the typewriter of this harassed man . . . instead of insults there poured a stream of belly laughs, puns, brilliant nonsense and fantastic tricks of rhetorical illusion.”