Map Drawn by a Spy

Guillermo Cabrera Infante, trans. from the Spanish by Mark Fried. Archipelago (PRH, dist.), $18 (240p) ISBN 978-0-914671-79-4
Fidel Castro’s Cuba is a barren and perilous isle in Cabrera Infante’s melancholy memoir. In 1965 Cabrera Infante was 36, living in Belgium with his wife, and serving as the Cuban embassy’s cultural attaché. Brought home by his mother’s sudden death, Cabrera finds his beloved Havana deeply altered under the new Communist government: businesses shuttered, medicine scarce, food strictly rationed, and political attitudes so arbitrarily changeable that even supporters of the revolution are jailed. As diplomatic intrigue imperils his return to Europe, Cabrera Infante visits with old friends and family. He wanders through a city in which “everyone is seemingly overwhelmed by a profound sadness,” and embarks on trysts with old girlfriends and new acquaintances. Completed in the 1960s, soon after Cabrera Infante’s last Cuban interlude, this memoir is an engaging sketch of a midcentury man of letters, with all his attendant prejudices and predilections—an admirer of Nabokov and Cortázar who drinks and womanizes with pleasure, judges harshly, and falls in love despite himself. It’s also the piercing lament of an exile, who sees his world disappearing even before he departs it: “He was in his own country, but somehow his country was not his country; an imperceptible mutation had changed people and things into their mirror image; everyone and everything was there, but they weren’t themselves.” (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 06/26/2017
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