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Telex from Cuba: A Novel

A book by Rachel Kushner

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"Lots of things in Preston and Locaro didn't belong to the people who owned them."

  • Feb 4, 2009
  • by
Rating:
+4
Kushner writes of America's glory days in pre-revolutionary Cuba, from 1952 until 1958, when dreams of continued affluence dissolve in the face of the Castro's populist rebellion. Two children describe the luxurious conditions of their childhood: KC Stites, whose father heads the United Fruit Company, an enormous sugar cane enterprise of 300,000 acres and the wealthy enclave of Oriente Province; Everly Lederer's family cannot claim such rich benefits, but still, her father, who works in management for the newly reopened nickel plant on Nicaro Island, can provide his family with a similar lifestyle, servants, an American school and private clubs where Americans while away the evenings in drunken revelry. To be sure, there are the masses of dark-skinned workers who keep these vast and lucrative operations functioning and the household servants who allow pampered wives days of frivolous pursuits.

There is even a southern family of lower social class, a teeming, unmannered bunch with a father of questionable background who has fled an unsavory past. His job is to keep the workers in check, the company profitable. Then there is the French agitator, Christian de la Maziere, who travels easily from Cuba to Haiti, from the new Cuban dictator, Batista (after a successful coup in 1952), to the jungles where Fidel and Raul Castro gather rebels and conduct periodic attacks on American businesses. Maziere is fascinated by a certain cabaret dancer, Rachel K, a favorite of dictators and revolutionaries alike, who paints fishnet stockings on her legs every day and keeps her own counsel. Impressions of this unique place and time are the exclusive provenance of KC and Everly (with some input from Rachel K and Maziere), each growing child skirting the other's life as KC's older brother runs away to join the rebels and Everly reports on the mishaps of her neighbors in Nicaro while fixating on a house servant who befriends her.

Like childhood, this rarified era of American exploitation isn't meant to last, revolution on the horizon, the Americans clinging to their clubs and rituals amid increasing chaos and disruptions of the sugar can operations. This idyllic time, when American families live like royalty in Cuba, will not survive the brutality of rebellion, years of abundance and exploitation destroyed in a populist upheaval, Cuba shaking off the yoke of US government investment and corporate greed in favor of a new kind of prison. In precise and richly imagined prose, Kushner manipulates her characters in an orgy of indulgence, a kingdom of sorts for those who would never enjoy such exception in the States, a paradise where the color of one's skin is a passport to exclusivity and comfort. Oblivious to the unrest around them, the Americans embrace the familiar, a St. Vitus Day dance of excess and denial, the island immersed in glory before settling into the dust of failed expectations. Luan Gaines/2009.

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More Telex from Cuba: A Novel reviews
review by . September 12, 2008
Cuba as a place frozen in time:    Cuba in the 1950s before the revolution a sepia-tinted postcard of a place so pristine that it never could have existed.    Cuba today a black and white ruin so ancient that it never could have existed.    But Cuba, as a place frozen in time, holds such a place in our memories that if it never could have existed, we would have to invent it.    I've never been closer to Cuba than Sarasota, …
review by . January 14, 2009
Kushner is a writer with great talent. She recreates the Cuba of the 1950's in a way that seems real and immediate. The reader can learn a good deal about the history of Cuba in an entertaining and enjoyable way through this novel. The narrative creates a tension which lures the reader to the next page, even though there are few sympathetic characters herein. The author's moralizing tone is the only negative feature of this otherwise laudable novel.    Most of the adults are …
review by . January 02, 2009
Telex from Cuba is an ambitious novel. Its problem is a near terminal case of P.O.V. - itis. The story covers a few years prior to the January 1959 entrance of the barbudos into Havana, told from the point of view of two American ex-patriot children, and it's near impossible to distinguish one child from the other; a romantic French ex-pat who is a gun-runner, revolutionary theoretician, and rake; and an omniscient narrator. Except for the Frenchman, the narrators melt together, and it takes paragraphs …
review by . January 01, 2009
My trip to Cuba this past spring was an illuminating and educational experience as well as an eye-opener to the social and political systems of this Caribbean country. There is so much negative attitude about Cuba in the media that to see the country up front and personal is an entirely different experience than listening to all the one-dimensional hype. Reading Telex from Cuba, by first-time author Rachel Kushner was another piece of the puzzle that integrates the power, corruption and romanticism, …
review by . December 16, 2008
In an impressive first novel, Rachel Kushner writes about the lives of American families in Cuba before Castro, and the events leading up to the revolution. There are American families, like the Stites and the Lederers, making their fortunes in Cuba, and putting on the perfect facades despite their problems. There are the Allens, wanted fugitives in America, for whom Cuba is the last resort. Then there are characters like Rachel K., a cabaret dancer who helps out the rebels and facilitates political …
review by . August 27, 2008
Covering the years around the revolution in Cuba filtered mostly through the eyes of children, Telex from Cuba tells the story of the American community living in Cuba managing the United Fruit sugarcane factory and the U.S. government-owned nickel mine.    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 …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #86
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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Rachel Kushner's first novel,Telex from Cuba, doesn't read like your usual debut. Using family stories, extensive archival research, and all the tools of the novelist's imagination, she creates a portrait in many voices of a small society at a crucial moment in time: the American sugar cane and nickel-mining colony in the last years before Castro and the first moments of his revolution. As seen through the lives of the children and wives of American executives, and the parallel intrigues of a nightclub dancer with powerful friends and a former French collaborator--along with striking cameos by historical figures like the Castro brothers, Hemingway, and, yes, Colonel Sanders--Kushner's Cuba makes the raw materials of revolution, and its aftermath, come alive.

Questions for Rachel Kushner

Amazon.com: You're writing about the end of one era for Cuba at what may be the end of another. Was that in your mind as you wrote?

Kushner: It wasn't so much, actually, but that might be because I wrote the bulk of the book before Fidel fell ill with diverticulitis, and before the American media's obsession with his (like all of ours) eventual death hit a pitch point. Even now, I find this sense of waiting and the media's focus on it to be an odd tautology: the "breaking" story is often that there's a breaking story, but then the story never comes. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Fidel Castro's policies, his segue out of public view has been pretty brilliant. He trumped the media's ...

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Details

ISBN-10: 141656103X
ISBN-13: 978-1416561033
Author: Rachel Kushner
Publisher: Scribner

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