Telex from Cuba: A Novel
Rachel 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 1958, this is a masterful debut.
Young Everly Lederer and K.C. 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 dreamworld, Everly and K.C. nevertheless have keen eyes for the indulgences and betrayals of the grown-ups around them—the mordant drinking and illicit loves, the race hierarchies and violence.
In Havana, a thousand kilometers and a world away from the American colony, a cabaret dancer meets a French agitator named Christian de La Mazière, whose seductive demeanor can’t mask his shameful past. Together they become enmeshed in the brewing political underground. When Fidel and Raúl Castro lead a revolt from the mountains above the cane plantation, torching the sugar and kidnapping a boat full of “yanqui” revelers, K.C. and Everly begin to discover the brutality that keeps the colony humming. Though their parents remain blissfully untouched by the forces of history, the children hear the whispers of what is to come.
At the time, 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.
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.