Book Review: 'King Of Cuba'

Alan Cheuse reviews the novel King of Cuba by Cristina Garcia.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Many of the most celebrated Latin American writers have explored the character of the dictator in novels. Gabriel Garcia Marques did it, as did Mario Vargas Llosa. And now, add Cristina Garcia. Her new novel is called "King of Cuba," and reviewer Alan Cheuse likes it.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The story begins on the anniversary of the Cuban revolution and it's a fascinating imaginary (unintelligible) between the near ancient commandante, who's ruled Cuba for ages, and a man named Goyo Herrera(ph), an ailing 86-year-old Cuban-born businessman whose obsession near the end of his own life is assassination.

Moving back and forth between Cuba and the U.S., Garcia digs deep into the characters of both men. In Havana, the revolution, as Garcia herself suggests, is about to make its last gasp. El Commandante seems to realize this himself. People would rather watch "Gaucho Love," their favorite telenovela, than listen to a speech, the decrepit dictator laments.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Herrera, with his drug-addicted almost 60-year-old American son, his liberal daughter, a sexy girlfriend and a Cadillac, finds himself tangled up in memories of his old home island. Its dialects, Garcia writes, its hummingbirds, its fish, its chaos, its peanut vendors, its Chinese lotteries, its cacophonies, its myths, its terrors.

With these memories swirling around in Goyo's mind and still stinging from the fact that decades ago, El Commandante seduced and impregnated the woman he loved above all others, Goyo finds himself on a collision course with the Cuban ruler. Garcia's serio-comic novel gives us all the pop delight of a musical based on major historical events and a devastating portrait of two men and a tyrannical government on the way out.

Anyone with an interest in late 20th century politics will find this book a wicked pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Alan Cheuse with his review of the novel "King of Cuba" by Cristina Garcia.

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