four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
36-Sept-Oct-2008
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Telex from CubaIn this debut novel, Rachel Kushner draws on her mother’s and aunts’ upbringing in Cuba during the years before Castro’s regime to craft a rich portrait of American expatriate life amid impending revolution.

The Story: Two American enclaves on the island of Cuba remain largely, and blissfully, unaware of the politically instability and poverty outside of their walls in the 1950s, before Castro revolts against President Batista. Preston, where the United Fruit Company has its sugarcane plantation, and Nicaro, where Americans run the nickel mines, remain refuges of power, wealth, and second chances, communities where exploited Cuban servants and Haitian cane cutters toil for their white employers. Two teens—Everly Lederer, the daughter of a nickel mine executive, and K. C. Stites, the son of the United Fruit Company manager—share stories of their privileged lives and their parents’ foibles and growing ignorance. But when political insurgency infiltrates the American enclaves, their lives change forever.
Scribner. 336 pages. $25. ISBN: 141656103X

Seattle Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Cuba before Fidel Castro’s revolution is only half a century away from us in time—but the milieu Rachel Kushner depicts in her stunner of a novel will be completely unfamiliar to most readers. … The result is a fluid, eye-opening symphony of a book, with American voices dominating, but with Cuban, Jamaican and Haitian voices—imported cane-field, mining and domestic help—chiming in." Michael Upchurch

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"[Kushner] examines humanity and business, politics and deception during a time in Cuba so pivotal that sometimes the fictional work reads like a true account of events. … She paints a seemingly accurate portrait of Castro during that era, a man passing himself off as a messiah ready to save Cuba, but one who’s dangerously tyrannical beneath the surface." Mario Tarradell

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Kushner’s title is somewhat misleading; the novel’s real draws are its complex relationships and well-researched cultural context, not the big telex-worthy events. … [A] dreamy, sweet-tart meditation on a vanished way of life and a failed attempt to make the world over in America’s image." Susann Cokal

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Historic figures casually skim through the narrative and are given dialogue: Hemingway, Prio, Batista, Fidel and Raul Castro. … More than the history lesson, political intrigues, exotic settings and (not a few) bitter romances, I enjoyed the opportunity to see events from the mind of a child who is not quite an adult." David Loftus

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This first novel by Rachel Kushner is a pure treat from the cover to the very last page. It’s the kind of thing you should stock up on to give sick friends as presents; they’ll forget their arthritis and pneumonia, I promise, once they walk into a land that’s gone now, but not yet quite forgotten: Cuba in the last few years before Fidel Castro took over." Carolyn See

Seattle Post-Intelligencer 3 of 5 Stars
"[Kushner] does an excellent job of depicting the lush landscape and lifestyle in these expat communities. … The Havana plotline adds some unwelcome cliché plot elements." John Marshall

Critical Summary

"Wonderful reviews have been coming thick and fast for Telex From Cuba, and they’re more than well deserved," notes the Washington Post. Drawing on her family’s experience in the American enclaves portrayed in the novel, Kushner writes with wisdom and beauty about adolescence, racism, class conflict, and politics in Cuba on the eve of insurrection. Kushner cleverly, however, refuses to let her characters obtain complete understanding of the revolution, which lends them a realistic, terrible complicity. While reviewers praise the cinematic period details, history lesson, and political intrigue, some disagree about the many third-person perspectives (philandering Americans, alcoholic wives, a burlesque dancer and mistress to Cuban politicians) that crowd the narrative. But overall, Kushner’s magnificent debut re-creates a lost world and era.