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Bookmarks Issue: 
45-Mar-Apr-2010
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A-AutobiographyFidelNorberto Fuentes, a journalist, a scholar, and an outspoken critic of the Comandante, was a member of Castro’s inner circle until he fell out of favor and was arrested and imprisoned in 1989. With the help of Gabriel García Márquez and William Kennedy, he was released and fled to the United States in 1994. The Autobiography of Fidel Castro, a fictionalized memoir of the legendary leader, was originally published as a two-volume set in Spanish.

The Story: "No one owns the past," declares the longtime Cuban leader in this satirical, faux autobiography, "at least not until it is written." The notoriously long-winded Castro speaks his mind on matters great and small, detailing his passions, phobias, and philosophies and delivering his version of key historical events. He carps about the Bay of Pigs Invasion, rejoices at having brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the missile crisis, brags about his sexual conquests, and shares his animosity toward fellow revolutionary Che Guevara. ("The island was too small for the two of us.") From the self-aggrandizing swagger and petulant diatribe emerges a razor-sharp portrait of the leader as a Machiavellian egomaniac.
W.W. Norton & Company. 592 pages. $27.95. ISBN: 9780393068993

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"From the opening paragraphs, readers aware of the satire’s power will see the Fuentes/Castro pairing akin to the Tina Fey/Sarah Palin pairing on the television show Saturday Night Live. Pretty soon, separating the two not only seemed difficult, but also beside the point. The revolution featuring Castro in the lead role as overthrower of Cuban ruler Fulgencio Batista, as a fulcrum in the Cuban Missile Crisis, as an ally of the Soviet Union comes alive anew in the Fuentes version, but with oh so subtle variations from the official history." Steve Weinberg

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"This fascinating, engagingly educational and sometimes funny book helps elucidate the history of modern Cuba. Or, as Fuentes’ Castro puts it, ‘Pure Fidelismo.’" Adam Braver

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Most Cubaphiles will find Fuentes’ effort to be a masterful act of ventriloquism, offering a Castro who is prideful, intuitively Machiavellian and relentlessly cynical. … Fuentes is the beneficiary of the superb editing and translation of Anna Kushner, whose deftness reminds one of Natasha Wimmer." Ann Louise Bardach

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"As for the reader, by Page 100 I felt I was no longer reading Norberto Fuentes but Fidel Castro himself. … The book can be a slog, and it gets a little sloppy, but you never know if that’s Fuentes, or Fuentes channeling Castro, or a question of translation. I vote for the channeling theory." Tom Miller

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"While some of Mr. Fuentes’s conjurings of Mr. Castro’s rise to power and his group’s triumphs over daunting, sometimes ridiculous odds have the hard, burnished glow of authenticity, many of the fictional Fidel’s noisier outbursts sound like the contrived rantings of a paper-doll demagogue, designed by his creator to embody all that is alarming and megalomaniacal: a nihilist who fomented death and revolution to satisfy a personal craving for power and fame. … When Mr. Fuentes stops trying to italicize his hero’s villainy and instead focuses on the narrative of his story, we’re able to stop trying to figure out just how historically accurate his Comandante might be, and enjoy his creation as a compelling fictional personage—by turns arrogant, funny, pompous, lewd, self-absorbed and self-deluding." Michiko Kakutani

Critical Summary

In this "deliciously wicked" (San Francisco Chronicle) infusion of history and satire, Fuentes truly captures the spirit of Fidel Castro—monumentally proud, manipulative, and cynical. He skillfully imitates the Cuban leader’s voice, though the New York Times declared that Fuentes’s Castro sometimes sinks into the realm of caricature, and the San Francisco Chronicle complained that he is devoid of all positive human emotions—something his most virulent enemies do not even assert. Despite his slight tendency toward exaggeration, critics praised Fuentes’s ability to bring the curmudgeonly, eccentric leader vividly and humorously to life. They also applauded Anna Kushner’s careful revisions and elegant translation. This enlightening and entertaining "part story, part pedagogy" is likely to be the best account of Castro for many years to come.

Cited by the Critics

Feast of the Goat | Mario Vargas Llosa (2001): Llosa expertly evokes the Dominican Republic during the last days of the nightmarish rule of General Rafael Trujillo, "the Goat," in this powerful and grim recreation of actual events.

Autumn of the Patriarch | Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1976): In this spellbinding stream-of-consciousness novel, Marquez employs magical realism to portray his merciless fictional tyrant, the General, during the last days of his life.