Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner is an interesting and compelling novel about an American community in Cuba before Castro’s revolution. Set in the 1950s, part of the story follows K.C. Stites and Everly Lederer, children of the American workers. K.C. Stites’ father runs the United Fruit Company cane fields while Everly’s father works at the nickel company run by Mackey. It’s through them that we learn of their parents’ lives in Cuba. In the other part of the story, a Frenchman, in Havana now, is strangely drawn to a dancer and the two of them became tangled up in the complicated political environment in which Castro and others reside.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It’s the first one I’ve read set in Cuba and written by a Cuban author. It’s well written and contains some outstanding, believable characters. I knew very little about Cuba and was hoping to learn more about it. I was not disappointed. It was extremely fascinating to see the trials and tribulations of a changing Cuba.
My favourite characters were K.C and Everly. I loved hearing the story through their innocent eyes. I didn’t quite get a handle on Christian de La Mazière, but I was fascinated with his story and the real life political characters he met. Speaking of “real life characters”, this story would be missing something had it not at least mentioned some of the some famous Cubans and visitors of the time period. Kushner includes the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raúl, Batista, Carlos Prío Socorras, Desi and Lucy Arnaz, as well as Hemmingway and Papa Doc Duvalier. I was quite surprised at the characterization of Raúl. I’ll have to pay more attention to the news now that he’s in charge of Cuba.
The one thing I had trouble with in the story was the “jumping around in time”. There are little jumps/tangents about other things in other time periods (forwards and back) and it was a little hard to follow. At first I had no trouble, but soon I got tired of it and my concentration wavered enough that I got lost. It was helpful that a couple of the chapters/sections are preceded by dates. However, I would have preferred that the author did this more often. The shifts in time made a lot of sense once I read the ending, which was really good by the way.
I’d definitely read another book by this author.