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As the first full-length study dedicated to the wide-ranging and vibrant literature written by Cuban exiled authors in America, Isabel Alvarez Borland’s book is a welcome addition to the growing field of Latino and Caribbean literatures in the United States. Unlike other recent studies, Alvarez Borland rejects the generic label “Latino” in favor of the specificity of the Cuban experience, studying the emergence of post-1959 literature as a creative response to the forced exodus caused by the revolutionary take-over on that fateful January 1st. Alvarez Borland traces the development of Cuban-American literature to the phenomenon of mass migration, from the first waves of exiles who sought refuge in Miami in the early 1960s, to the sea-crossing of balseros in make-shift [End Page 1047] rafts and boats during the troubled 1990s. Resisting a narrow view of Cuban-American literature that measures works by ideology or content, her analysis highlights instead the complex mediations established both with the home country and tradition (Cuba and Cuban literature) as well as with the adapted one. Alvarez Borland shows how crucial—and painful—is the issue of language choice for the Cuban-American writer. Though her study centers primarily on Cuban-American authors who write in English, she also includes those who consciously and lovingly maintain their ties to Spanish, or else who alternate between both languages, thus revealing the complexity of the exile experience and of the creative process at work.
The book’s stated objective—to show how Cuban literature of exile crossed borders into another language and tradition—is not only aptly fulfilled in the selection of authors and representative works, but also by arranging them according to recurrent tropes of the diaspora—loss, the need to redefine the self anew, images of community, and the creation of authorial masks and fictions. Alvarez Borland thoughtfully examines the evolution of Cuban-American narrative as the product of two generations of writers, each expressing its own unique reaction to the event which cleaved their lives in two. The cataclysm of a socialist revolution and its effect on the individual and collective psyche is more deeply felt in the works of writers like Lino Novás Calvo, a first-generation exiled writer who wrote in Spanish. His short story collection, Maneras de contar ( 1970), dramatizes the tension, violence, and conflict that ensued after the 1959 triumph when members of the same family declared themselves either for or against the revolution. The view of the first generation is seen through the works of Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Reinaldo Arenas, two major novelists who, by theme, literary innovation, and stature, bridge both the Cuban and Cuban-American traditions.
The first part of the study paves the way for second-generation writers, many of whom have reached notoriety in mainstream U.S. literary circles. The writers grouped under the rubric of Cuban-American literature are, in turn, divided into the “one-and-a-half” generation, who straddle both cultures, and those belonging to the second generation, whom Alvarez Borland distinguishes as voicing a genuinely ethnic—as opposed to a markedly nationalist or exilic—perspective. The author reviews recent theories about Cuban-American literature—from Carolina [End Page 1048] Hospital’s notion of “los atrevidos” (the Daring Ones) to Pérez Firmat’s Life on the Hyphen, including too poet Lourdes Gil’s desire to reclaim a place within the canon of Cuban literature.
The author then proceeds to examine the array of works produced under the stress of exile, adaptation, and reinsertion within a U.S. context. Alvarez Borland’s close readings of autobiographical works, such as Pablo Medina’s Exiled Memories (1990) and Pérez Firmat’s Next Year in Cuba (1995), rigorously examine the different types of mediations that these authors established with their past as well as with their new environment. This part of the book reveals an aspect of Cuban-American literature seldom acknowledged by critics. Nowhere is the adage “you can’t go home again” more true...