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The Assault [El Asalto] (1990)
The difference between the communist and capitalist
systems is that, although both give you a kick
While doing research on Reinaldo Arenas, one thing becomes quite clear : little Elian would still be in Miami if only it had occurred to his family to claim that he was gay. That assessment may be overly flippant, but it is truly incredible to leaf through the dozens of reliably liberal publications that excused Castro's regime when the life and freedom of a little boy were at stake, but which profess themselves to be outraged at the way that Reinaldo Arenas and other homosexuals have been treated in Cuba. Of course, there's also the delightful irony of all the conservative outlets and figures embracing this poor AIDs-ridden refugee as one of their own. Politics sure does make for strange bedfellows.
Raised in the kind of poverty that has typified Cuba, Reinaldo Arenas joined the revolutionaries fighting Batista when he was just fourteen. With Castro installed in power, Arenas was able to benefit from the government's mass education policies and attended the University of Havana. His first novel was officially hailed but his second was banned. A manuscript had to be smuggled out of the country and the book was published in France. So began years of harassment which culminated in an arrest in 1973 on a charge of sexual assault. An unsuccessful attempt to escape the island in an inner tube led to two years in the infamous El Moro prison. Arenas was released when he agreed to renounce his own writings, specifically their "deviance." And when the Mariel boat lift got underway in 1980, Arenas fled to the United States. He continued to write and was politically active in the anti-Castro movement until he took his own life on December 7, 1990. In a letter to the Miami newspaper Diario las Americas, he wrote : "My message is not a message of failure but rather one of struggle and hope. Cuba will be free, I already am."
Though the specific source of his alienation from the Castro regime was sexual, Arenas did not limit his activism to issues of sexuality. An open letter he wrote to Castro reflects broad humanitarian and democratic concerns :
Mr. Fidel Castro Ruz
On January 1, 1989, you will have been in power for
thirty years without having, so far, celebrated
Following the recent example of Chile, where after
fifteen years of dictatorship, the people were
In order to guarantee the impartiality of this plebiscite,
it is essential that the following conditions
1. The naming of a neutral international commission to oversee the plebiscite.
2. The freeing of all political
prisoners and the suspension of laws that curtail the free expression
3. That all exiles be allowed
to return to Cuba and, together with other sectors of the opposition,
4. The legalization of human rights committees within Cuba.
Should the no prevail, it would be incumbent upon
you to respect the will of the majority by giving
Regardless of the writer's sexuality, that is simply a powerful and compelling text. His message transcends personal concerns and asks simply that Castro meet the bare minimum requirement of the modern Western state : consent of the governed.
Suffice it to say, I'd like very much to be able to unreservedly recommend this novel--the final installment in the author's "Pentagonia," his five part "secret history of Cuba"--but I'm afraid I don't. Even considering the entirely worthwhile target, the dystopic fantasy is overly hysterical and scatological in tone and, besides taking on a Castroesque regime, the narrator pursues a quite demented vendetta against his own mother. I suppose we can't be too surprised that Arenas seems to have had some psychosexual issues to work out with Mom, but they do clutter up an already fairly bizarre narrative, where the citizenry has become so dehumanized that they've begun to grow claws in a metamorphosis that inevitably brings Kafka to mind. The best bits are derivative and the worst are so unique to Arenas's own tortured psyche that they're hard to relate to.
I admire Arenas for the courageous stance he took against Castro, and pity him his ultimate fate. But this book just isn't particularly good, no matter how noble the intent. Its chief interest is more cultural than literary, as an all too rare example of anti-Castro literature by a Latin American writer.
See also:Latin American
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : reinaldo arenas
-ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : arenas, reinaldo
-EXCERPT : First Chapter of Color of Summer
-TRIBUTE : Remembering Reinaldo (Octavio Roca, San Francisco Chronicle, December 26, 2000)
-PROFILE : The defiant one : Gay writer Reinaldo Arenas was persecuted by Castro's homophobic regime. Now a film about his life has outraged Fidel's followers. (Peter Tatchell, June 8, 2001, The Guardian)
-PROFILE : REINALDO ARENAS (1943-1990) (Prof. Francisco Soto (City University of New York) from The Gay & Lesbian Literary Heritage, ed. Claude J. Summers)
-PROFILE : Writing against the night : Before Night Falls celebrates a rebel Cuban writer (Gaby Wood, SA Mail & Guardian, July 2001)
-PROFILE : The peasant revolts : Reinaldo Arenas was thrown in jail by Castro and later killed himself in New York. Now an Oscar-nominated film celebrates the life of this controversial Cuban writer (Gaby Wood, June 3, 2001, The Observer)
-ESSAY : America's Left and the Double Standard Over Gays in Cuba (Agustin Blazquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton, March 2, 2001 , Neoliberalismo)
-ESSAY : Life Under Castro (Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, 20 March 2001)
-PAPERS : Reinaldo Arenas Papers : A Finding Aid Prepared by Rodolfo G. Aiello (Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University)
-Reinaldo Arenas (1943 - 1990) (QueerTheory.com)
-The Knitting Circle: Literature : Biography, biopic, work, bibliography. : Reinaldo Arenas
-Reinaldo Arenas (Shergood Forest : Art, Literature, Entertainment & Sports for Gay Men)
-ESSAY : The Sexual Politics of Reinaldo Arenas: Fact, Fiction, and the Real Record of the Cuban Revolution (Jon Hillson, Seeing Red.com)
-ESSAY : THE CRUCIFIXION OF REINALDO ARENAS (MANUEL MENÉNDEZ)
-Freedom Advocacy : Promoting freedom and human rights around the world, beginning with Cuba : Homosexuals
-ESSAY : CUBA'S HERESY OF WORDS
-ESSAY : Cuban libraries, intellectual freedom and the Oberg report (A Special Report / The Friends of Cuban Libraries. April 16, 2000)
-REVIEW : of The Assault (James Sallis, The Washington Post)
-REVIEW : of BEFORE NIGHT FALLS By Reinaldo Arenas. Translated by Dolores M. Koch (Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, NY times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Before Night Falls (David Rosen, Editor-in-Chief, InsightOutBooks)
-REVIEW : of THE COLOR OF SUMMER Or, The New Garden of Earthly Delights. By Reinaldo Arenas. Translated by Andrew Hurley (Lee Siegel, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of The Color of Summer (Jaime Manrique. The Washington Post.)
-REVIEW : of Color of Summer (PHILIP HERTER, St. Petersburg Times)
-REVIEW : of Eminent Maricones Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me. By Jaime Manrique (Daniel Mendelsohn, NY Times Book Review)
-REVIEW : of Eminent Maricones (DANIEL REITZ, Salon)
-REVIEW : of Eminent Maricons (David Ross Gerling, World Literature Today)
-REVIEW : Eminent Maricones: Arenas, Lorca, Puig, and Me. By Jaime Manrique (Leora Lev, South Atlantic Modern Language Assoc)
-REVIEW : of Hispanisms and Homosexualities. Edited by Syllvia Molloy and Robert McKee Irwin (Leora Lev, Bridgewater State College)
ANDREW HURLEY :