two-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
10-May-June-2004
By: 
Ana Menendez
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-LovingCheAna Menendez's first novel delves into the personal life of Cuban revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara, whose image today appears on tourist trinkets and walls of anarchist coffee shops alike. Here, a Miami woman's search for her birth mother in Cuba takes a strange turn when a package of letters and photographs from the mysterious "Teresa" arrives claiming that the narrator is the product of a passionate love affair between Teresa and Che. Menendez places these letters, which depict the alleged affair and pregnancy, within flashbacks of revolutionary-Cuba and embeds snapshots in the text to make the romance come alive.
Grove Press. 229 pages. $22.

Oregonian 3 of 5 Stars
"It is a story about romance, memory, fiction and betrayal, all strong themes within the Cuban exile community. ... Menendez paints a rich and dazzling portrait of revolutionary Cuba, and anyone interested in the country will be delighted by the book's strong and specific sense of place." Chelsea Cain

NY Times 3 of 5 Stars
"At its best Ms. Menendez's story captures the electrifying, all-consuming power of erotic love, its ability to make one see the world anew, to awaken dormant energies, to inspire potent art, to infuse the mundane with the gleam of significance. At its worst the story trades the reportorial specificity and psychological particulars of the author's earlier work for the abstract, heavy-breathing prose of a romance novel." Michiko Kakutani

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"Menendez tries with varying success to twist the legend of the infamous rebel to suit her story. ... A former Miami Herald reporter whose parents left Cuba, Menendez is at her best when she tells a straight narrative in unadorned, descriptive language." Mary-Liz Shaw

SF Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Menendez's literary sensibility also reveals itself in strongly, often beautifully poetic prose. ... But she occasionally stretches her gifts as a stylist too far, and the language becomes so self-consciously precious that it fails to contain any truth, literal or fictive."Timothy Peters

Miami Herald 2 of 5 Stars
"In her barnburning debut, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, the stories of former Herald reporter Ana Menendez popped and crackled from the molten estrangements of age, loneliness and exile. The slim, disappointing Loving Che, however, is a more tepid affair, its smattering of colorful prose poor compensation for half-baked characters and a slumberous, derivative storyline that has the treacly earmarks of a Lifetime TV movie." Ariel Gonzalez

USA Today 2 of 5 Stars
"Delving into the mind and politics of Guevara outside the bedroom could have made the novel richer and more textured. And although Menendez does recall significant events in Cuban history, the novel will be of less interest to historians than romantics." Carol Memmott

Critical Summary

Critics agree that Loving Che does not live up to the wide acclaim of Menendez's short story collection, In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd. In Loving Che the former journalist attempts a more ornate and less journalistic style, which does not quite succeed. Reviewers praise her poetic language and sensual descriptions of Cuba but note that her emphasis on Che's romantic life comes at the expense of solid historical and political context. Important events serve only to illustrate the phases of Che and Teresa's affair, which, in the end, resembles a bodice-ripper romance. If you're not a fan of historical romance novels, the consensus is: wait for Menendez's next effort.