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  • Hardcover
  • 322 pages
  • Telex from Cuba
  • Rachel Kushner
  • English
  • 28 February 2019
  • 141656103X

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Telex from CubaRachel Kushner has written an astonishingly wise, ambitious, and riveting novel set in the American community in Cuba during the years leading up to Castro s revolution a place that was a paradise for a time and for a few The first novel to tell the story of the Americans who were driven out in , this is a masterful debutYoung Everly Lederer and KC Stites come of age in Oriente Province, where the Americans tend their own fiefdom three hundred thousand acres of United Fruit Company sugarcane that surround their gated enclave If the rural tropics are a child s dream world, Everly and KC nevertheless have keen eyes for the indulgences and betrayals of grown ups around them the mordant drinking and illicit loves, the race hierarchies, and violenceIn Havana, a thousand kilometers and a world away from the American colony, a cabaret dancer meets a French agitator named Christian de La Mazire, whose seductive demeanor can t mask his shameful past Together they become enmeshed in the brewing political underground When Fidel and Raul Castro lead a revolt from the mountains above the cane plantation, torching the sugar and kidnapping a boat full of yanqui revelers, KC and Everly begin to discover the brutality that keeps the colony humming If their parents manage to remain blissfully untouched by the forces of history, the children hear the whispers of what is to comeAt the time, the urgent news was conveyed by telex Kushner s first novel is a tour de force, haunting and compelling, with the urgency of a telex from a forgotten time and place Pearl Ruled p8 Daddy swore out loud and rushed to the garage where Hilton kept the company limousine, a shiny black Buick We had two of them Dynaflows, with the chromed, oval shaped ventiports along the front fenders.Dynaflow is a brand of transmission that Buick developed The car itself was a Buick Roadmaster If you don t get details such as this right, I lose my sense that you re getting things important to the story, things invisible to me, correct that means I get the sense that your no Pearl Ruled p8 Daddy swore out loud and rushed to the garage where Hilton kept the company limousine, a shiny black Buick We had two of them Dynaflows, with the chromed, oval shaped ventiports along the front fenders.Dynaflow is a brand of transmission that Buick developed The car itself was a Buick Roadmaster If you don t get details such as this right, I lose my sense that you re getting things important to the story, things invisible to me, correct that means I get the sense that your novel s world is built on misunderstandings and faulty assumptions.Fiction is made up It s not history A detail, a grace note like a thirteen year old boy telling the reader that his dad was getting out the Buick, is the world building that deepens the experience of reading a novel Unlike speculative fiction, authors can not wave their hands and say it s my world, so that s how it is This is January 1958, in Preston now Guatemala , Cuba a real place, in a time many now alive remember Take care to research details or please don t deploy them Getting something that your point of view character is absolutely sure to know cold he s being set up as a bog standard teen boy and, in 1958 in the US imperial zone, that meant he knew about cars or wasfunny wrong is a signal to my overbooked eyes that this isn t the read for me It took me a very long time to get through this book Normally, if I am struggling this much, I will move on I m not one to force myself through books, life is too short and there s too much to read But I kept on with this, because I had a sense that Kushner had a particular vision for this something very different from what I, as a writer, would try to do and I wanted to find out what it was, and how she was going to achieve it.Perhaps the most difficult thing about the novel s structure It took me a very long time to get through this book Normally, if I am struggling this much, I will move on I m not one to force myself through books, life is too short and there s too much to read But I kept on with this, because I had a sense that Kushner had a particular vision for this something very different from what I, as a writer, would try to do and I wanted to find out what it was, and how she was going to achieve it.Perhaps the most difficult thing about the novel s structure and form, for a reader, is that there is no protagonist It seems to me that Kushner s main character is a certain time and place a world, not a person I ve read many novels that shift in point of view and yet still provide the reader with a single voice that dominates, even just slightly, to guide the reader through Delillo s Underworld, for example or Toni Morrison s A Mercy In those instances, the character who speaks in first person is usually the central character.In the case of Telex, the first person narrator, KC Stites, is not at all the most compelling or dominant character His I think is the weakest and least convincing voice and he is the least interesting character This is probably a central reason for why I found it hard to connect with the story This world of Cuba on the verge of revolution that Kushner is rendering is so complex, textured, tentacled I think she really needed an anchoring voice amidst the many many voices she portrays here She seems to not have been able to decide between KC Stites and Everly Lederer, whose voice starts and ends the novel I think the book would have worked better if she d committed to Everly an odd young girl at the time of the revolution who has a quirky curiosity and an interesting way of seeing things as the central voice.But this world she gives us is indeed fascinating And the novel is smarter than I am, which is another reason I kept with it On the sentence level, Kushner is masterful And the sheer ambition of the book is very, very impressive I have a sense that this book is probably a must read 5 star choice if Castro 20th Century Cuban history is of interest to begin with but for the general reader, a rough entry I enjoyed reading about the drama of the American families living in Cuba during the 1950 s.I especially enjoyed the children.3.5 rating the Political parts of the book did not flow as much for me as the personal relationships parts of the book did. This book was mesmerizing beautifully written and truly evocative of the time and place of the story Kushner paints an indelible picture of life in the United Fruit company s outpost in Cuba, her words creating a vivid portrait of a way of life in collapse The characters are wonderfully drawn and Cuba itself acts as a character in the novel Knowing that Kushner s mother lived through this tumultuous time in Cuba lends even greater reality to the narrative I picked this book up and could bar This book was mesmerizing beautifully written and truly evocative of the time and place of the story Kushner paints an indelible picture of life in the United Fruit company s outpost in Cuba, her words creating a vivid portrait of a way of life in collapse The characters are wonderfully drawn and Cuba itself acts as a character in the novel Knowing that Kushner s mother lived through this tumultuous time in Cuba lends even greater reality to the narrative I picked this book up and could barely stand to put it down The book highlights the inequalities that helped lead to the revolution, and the sadness of people on both sides when it didn t all work out as planned I highly recommend this book This was well written book It was a page turner for the first half, but then came to a screeching halt by the second half I felt it was boring and anti climactic.However, it was neat to read about this time period, and I have never read ANYTHING about the Cuban revolution Although it is none of my business, I wonder if the insinuations about Raul and Fidel s sexuality are true. With language as lush as the tropics itself, Kushner unfolds a political revolution and an embarrassing blotch on American history, described as temptingly as a bountiful buffet spread or a botanical garden run amok.Beginning the book through the eyes of children is a brilliant stroke The author shows their na ve view of Cuba like someone born into a cult who doesn t know anything of the outside world Then we see American families moving to Cuba to improve their place in the class hierarchy, n With language as lush as the tropics itself, Kushner unfolds a political revolution and an embarrassing blotch on American history, described as temptingly as a bountiful buffet spread or a botanical garden run amok.Beginning the book through the eyes of children is a brilliant stroke The author shows their na ve view of Cuba like someone born into a cult who doesn t know anything of the outside world Then we see American families moving to Cuba to improve their place in the class hierarchy, not satisfied with degradation of middle management back in the States We are shown the class system at work in Cuba from the lowest echelon the near indentured slaves, the Jamaicans, working the cane fields To the Cubans working the mine, the servants working in the homes of the white Americans, the Cuban landowners, the white American rednecks who oversee the cane crushers in the field, to the nickel mine managers and on up to the Executives at the American owned United Fruit Company The fruit company doesn t grow fruit any, just sugar cane, at the expense of the natives back breaking labor The Executives live in expansive houses with wrap around porches and plush gardens They have servants for gardening, cooking, chauffeuring, bartending, haggling in the market, and hosing down the house s daily coat of Nickel factory residue Father runs the Company with an iron fist or rather he hires an iron fist and Mother is a liberal, sympathetic to the poor individuals she comes across on her horseback riding excursions, but not necessarily of the plight of the cane crushers in general She wouldn t speak ill of The Company One tow headed brother runs off to join the rebels, the other stays and is Mother s golden boy The revolutionary action picks up when we meet a French agitator, who will sell guns to all three of the warring sides, just to make sure his trip to Cuba is worth his while Maziere has been around the world, been with every kind of woman and seen every kind of war He s a fascinating character an antagonist that s well drawn But the author indulges him with a little too much musing and slows the plot down While his motives for joining the SS are fascinating, her historical research gets a little showy We know what s coming Revolt Kidnapping Strafe and he s a little too preoccupied with an aloof dancer from a Havana cabaret And speaking of, why is she named Rachel K Some of the American wives in TELEX FROM CUBA are beautiful, but it s the faux zazou dancer Rachel K that gets the lustiest descriptions, the supplest breasts, and the attention of every important man in Cuba, it seems It feels like narcissism on the part of the author If the end seems unsatisfying, I guess it s because there s been no real resolution to the American relationship with Cuba Life went on Still, the characters, the scenes set at beachside barbecues and the American country club, the parties where Cuban presidents and the American businessmen mingle in finery without a hint of guilt, builds such a vivid picture Reading this book is like watching a gorgeous movie, and then watching the film catch fire and burn up, broadcast on the big screen When it fades to white, you want to start it again from the beginning, just to watch it burn Rarely do I hate a book I do admit that there are books that simply do not capture my interest, such as the previous book I have read But this one is a little different.I checked this book out of the library a few months ago It has been sitting on my drawer for quite a while now, and so I finally picked it up and started on it It started quite ok, but it stayed flat In short, it was quite painful to finish, although I didn t skip the chapters, and faithfully read until the end When I finis Rarely do I hate a book I do admit that there are books that simply do not capture my interest, such as the previous book I have read But this one is a little different.I checked this book out of the library a few months ago It has been sitting on my drawer for quite a while now, and so I finally picked it up and started on it It started quite ok, but it stayed flat In short, it was quite painful to finish, although I didn t skip the chapters, and faithfully read until the end When I finished, I wasthan happy to return it to the library.Now what could be wrong with this novel Well, to start with, there was no character that seemed to be the protagonist Everyone had a chapter or two of their own None of the characters were likable It seemed that everyone was an enemy the Americans were enemies because they were sucking the life off Cuban land and living like they were having their own fiefdoms, or the Cuban rebels for torching the sugar plantations and planning and executing the revolution Everyone seemed to be the enemy in this case.The narration also shifted constantly from an omniscient point of view, to the point of view of K.C Stites, which is a character, not really major, but not really minor either It was quite dizzying when the shifts occurred There were so many characters, so many American families and other characters that I wished there was a genealogy chart in the beginning of the book, instead of a map of Cuba It could have been a good historical novel, but the spotlight was shown on multiple people that it was quite hard to keep track The book lacked a cohesive element, except that everything was just set in Cuba.If you like Cuban historical fiction, go ahead and read this Otherwise, I say pick up something else I wanted to read this one after enjoying The Flamethrowers last year This one is very different an impressively detailed recreation of life in Cuba in the 1950s as the revolution was brewing It tells the stories of an odd mixture of characters, mostly American colonists The most compelling voices are the children Inevitably the book is a little uneven, but is well worth reading and an intriguing choice of subject for a first novel I wanted to read this one after enjoying The Flamethrowers last year This one is very different an impressively detailed recreation of life in Cuba in the 1950s as the revolution was brewing It tells the stories of an odd mixture of characters, mostly American colonists The most compelling voices are the children Inevitably the book is a little uneven, but is well worth reading and an intriguing choice of subject for a first novel I recently read Rachel Kushner s The Flamethrowers and fell in love I have to admit that if I just saw her literary debut, Telex from Cuba on the shelf without reading The Flamethrowers, I probably wouldn t have been interested in reading it There s no good reason for that other than too many books and too little time, but I am glad that I loved The Flamethrowers so much that I gave this a try.It s just not as good.Which is strange to say because I d say these books are almost identical in so I recently read Rachel Kushner s The Flamethrowers and fell in love I have to admit that if I just saw her literary debut, Telex from Cuba on the shelf without reading The Flamethrowers, I probably wouldn t have been interested in reading it There s no good reason for that other than too many books and too little time, but I am glad that I loved The Flamethrowers so much that I gave this a try.It s just not as good.Which is strange to say because I d say these books are almost identical in so many ways Kushner is a fantastic writer and I can only be eager to see what she does with that writing as time goes by For a debut novel, Telex from Cuba is pretty impressive, both in style and in the story itself Kushner is a young writer, yet she was able to capture life in Cuba in the 1950s so convincingly that if I didn t know better, I d think she maybe had these experiences herself.Usually I m pretty good at pinpointing what it is in a book that doesn t work for me, but unfortunately this time I m having a hard time I think overall this smelled too much like The Flamethrowers that I don t feel it was strong enough as its own book to be amazing Maybe if I had read this one first I d feel differently.I had difficulty with perspective in this novel, understanding whose point of view I was reading and their relationship to the other characters There were a few different storylines running simultaneously, and bringing them all together in a nice bundle at the end felt a bit forced and tenuous The strongest of all the stories is the one of Everly Lederer and her sisters, and that s the one that really should have made up this book, that was its strength.Still, this was good on it s own it just didn t have the same impact on me that her second novel did It s all about experiences and I could relate to The Flamethrowers in a way that I wasn t able to connect to this one


About the Author: Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner is the only writer to ever be nominated for a National Book Award in Fiction for both a first and second novel She began her Bachelor s in Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley when she was only sixteen and went on to obtain an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University She published her first novel, Telex from Cuba, in 2008 Kushner has edited for Grand Street Magazine, BOMB, Soft Targets, and Artforum, among others Her fiction and essays can be found in the New Yorker, the New York Times, and the Paris Review, and frequently focus on issues of feminism, contemporary art, revolutionary politics, culture, and modernism In 2013 New York Magazine called Kushner s second book, The Flamethrowers, probably the most heatedly discussed book of the year For this title Kushner was a finalist for the 2014 Folio Prize, the James Tate Black Prize, and the Bailey s Prize She was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 2013 as well as an honorary PhD from Kalamazoo College She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.