In one of the segments narrated by Silvestre, he mentions that the five principal male characters are engaged in a search for total wisdom and that they desire to achieve immortality “by uniting the end with the beginning.” Each of them carries out that quest in his own way. Arsenio Cué races his convertible madly down the streets of Havana in what strikes Silvestre as an attempt to convert space into time. Códac seems to wish that he could unite sexually with all women at the same time, and Eribó transcends his mundane circumstances by means of sound and rhythm. For his part, Silvestre, who is a writer, desires to remember everything, while, as mentioned above, Bustrófedon has “tried to be language.” All of them suffer from a vague uneasiness as they witness the progressive disintegration of the Havana nightlife that they have known and loved, with the result that they become preoccupied with their personal mortality.
The social disintegration around them, the description of which is often couched in apocalyptic terms, reflects the precarious situation of Cuba in mid-1958, a few months before Fidel Castro’s revolution triumphed and Cuba’s national life was utterly transformed. The epigraph to the text, drawn from Carroll’s work Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), reads, “And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out.” Cabrera Infante has stated that his novels represent,...
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