To read MEA CUBA, one need not know about Cuba, Cabrera Infante’s history, or the writers whose work he reviews. One may also open the book at any page and start reading. Cabrera Infante offers the background information necessary to understand whatever point he is making in a given piece. His prose is witty, full of puns and ironic asides. His delivery is not stern but the facts of his country’s history are. His loathing for Fidel Castro is persuasive; Cabrera Infante’s eye for the perfect detail, the right anecdote, reveals the dictator’s complete ugliness.
There is much history in MEA CUBA, presented in small, digestible pieces. Cuba has had the misfortune of being the object of propaganda for right- and left-wing causes. Cabrera Infante has an ideological ax to grind, but he is refreshingly honest about it. He also writes about what he knows from immediate experience. He writes with an eyewitness’ confidence of people he knew and events in which he participated. His experience as a journalist put him in a position to see much, know many people, and hear about more. His views on Cuba, its culture, and related topics should not be missed.
The stories of the lives of Cuban artists are generally tragic, but Cabrera Infante, in celebrating the art of Lezama Lima, Jose Marti, Reinaldo Arenas, and Virgilio Pinera, to name four, gives the lives an honest grace. The stories of the lives of these writers should be preserved with as much care as their writings, as a monument to the ugliness and futility of dictatorship in all its forms. Cabrera Infante contributes to this cause, often employing a great and effective enemy of the totalitarian organization: laughter. For example, his description of the fight between Pinera and Lima, on page 338, is laugh-out-loud hilarious, touching, and memorable. The book is worth reading for that passage alone, and there are many more passages like it.