A Novelby Ana Menendez
“A beautiful and quite possible reinvention of history.” –Alan Cheuse, NPR
A daring debut novel about a woman’s love affair with Che Guevara by the acclaimed young author of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
Ana Men”ndez’s In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd was hailed by The New York Times’ book critics as “powerful” and “achingly wise.” Now, in Loving Che, Men”ndez delivers an astonishing, intimate portrait of revolutionary Cuba as witnessed by an elderly woman recalling her secret love affair with the world’s most dashing, charismatic rebel, Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
The story opens in contemporary Miami, where a young Cuban woman has for years been searching in vain for details of her birth mother. All she knows of her past is that her grandfather had fled the turbulent Havana of the 1960s for Miami with her in tow, and that pinned to her sweater–possibly by her mother–were a few treasured lines of a Pablo Neruda poem. These facts remain her only tenuous links to her history, until a mysterious parcel arrives in the mail. Inside the soft, worn box are layers of writings and photographs. Fitting these pieces together with insights she gleans from several trips back to Havana, the daughter reconstructs the life of her mother, her youthful affair with the enigmatic Che, and the child she bore by the handsome rebel.
Loving Che is a brilliant recapturing of revolutionary Cuba, the changing social mores, the hopes and disappointments, the excitement and terror of the times. It is also an erotic fantasy, a glimpse into the private life of a mythic public figure, and an exquisitely crafted meditation on memory, history, and storytelling. Finally, Loving Che is a triumphant unveiling of how the stories we tell about others ultimately become the story of ourselves.
“Incantatory. . . . Loving Che displays the same radar for the telling emotional detail that Ms. Men”ndez’s impressive [In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd] did. . . . [Loving Che] appears to take as its model the intense, lyrical voice of Marguerite Duras’s best-selling 1985 novel The Lover. . . . Men”ndez’s story captures the electrifying, all-consuming power of erotic love, its ability to make one see the world anew, to awaken dormant energies, to inspire potent art, to infuse the mundane with the gleam of significance. . . . A work that . . . expands the talented Ms. Men”ndez’s fictional terrain.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Inventive and hypnotic. . . . For all the overripe passion, sweaty intimacy and willfully magical prose, this is one evanescent pas de deux. . . . [Loving Che is] Men”ndez’s deliciously mischievous take on the exile’s endless capacity to blur history–both personal and political–into myth. . . . A tart fable about history and identity that is equal parts detective story, travelogue and fever dream.
” –Mark Rozzo, The Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Loving Che deftly captures the fluid sense of identity that accompanied the now mythic early days of Cuba’s revolution. . . . Men”ndez is at her best when depicting [the] social detail, revealing what life is like for many Cubans today. She captures Cuba’s potential, its desperation and decay, and also its dark humor.” –Ruth Lopez, The New York Times Book Review
“[Men”ndez] brings alive the spirit of Guevara and the heart of the revolution in a novel that aches with longing, loss and lust-driven love. . . . Men”ndez pays tribute to her people and her culture in Loving Che.” –Carol Memmott, USA Today
‘splendid. . . . What makes Loving Che truly memorable is Men”ndez ‘s intense imagining of Teresa’s Havana. . . . Che’s photographs. . .add bright images of youth and nostalgia, snapshots of a lost world.” –Richard Wallace, The Seattle Times
“[Loving Che] puts [Men”ndez] in the company of other Latino writers such as Junot D”az and Sandra Cisneros . . . [Men”ndez] works to capture the spirit of revolution and unrest in Havana in the late 50’s and early 60’s.” –Vanity Fair
“The pain and loneliness of exile. . .permeates this poetic, fragmentary first novel by Ana Men”ndez. . . . The narrator’s attempt to fathom the nearly unfathomable nature of truth, particularly personal truth, enables Men”ndez to conjoin love and history and politics into a powerful m”lange. One of the strengths of this book is that while its backdrop is one of the most politically charged events since World War II, Men”ndez’s focus is on a much more intimate drama; she uses the revolution because it illuminates her theme of separation. . . . Men”ndez’s literary sensibility also reveals itself in strongly, often beautifully poetic prose.” –Timothy Peters, The San Francisco Chronicle
“[Men”ndez] explores this explosive era in [Cuba’s] history in gorgeously atmospheric, intimately rendered prose.” –Elle
“[Men”ndez] vividly renders a wounded yet optimistic Havana, wracked with both violence and exhilaration in the early years of the revolution. . . . She deftly weaves many well-known details from Che’s life into the figure of a dream lover.” –Katie Millbauer, Seattle Weekly
“This is a rich, unpretentious book, with a series of lessons on the power. . .of memory. . . . Men”ndez’s voice is fresh, inviting, and original.” –Carlyn Kolker, The Washington Times
“A moving commentary on the Cuban diaspora in Miami. . . . Loving Che is at its best when it subtly details the Cuban migration. . . . Menendez does an excellent job conveying the longing some Cubans have for their homeland.” –Andrea Ahles, Star-Telegram
“The power and beauty of the framing narrative. . . suggests that Menendez may be up to something much smarter and more ambitious than another overtly familiar tale of doomed lovers in exotic circumstances. . . . The writing is gorgeous, and the portrayal of Havana under the revolution as one of romantic decay is. . . sharply rendered. . . . A finely tuned modernist novel in the tradition of Italo Calvino or Vladmir Nabokov.” –Chauncey Mabe, San Antonio Express-News
“[Men”ndez] has written an evocative, if fleeting, love letter to a salt-of-the-earth guerrilla lover, a vanished world and the eternal ruins of memory.” –Anderson Tepper, Time Out
“A beautiful and quite possible reinvention of history.” –Alan Cheuse, NPR
“It is a story about romance, memory, fiction and betrayal, all strong themes within the Cuban exile community. . . . Menendez paints a rich and dazzling portrait of revolutionary Cuba, and anyone interested in the country will be delighted by the book’s strong and specific sense of place.” –Chelsea Cain, Bookmarks
“We are given a sense of the exciting changes and fears, hopes and mores of those heady and volatile early days of the revolution. Loving Che is a well crafted contemplation of history and myth, storytelling and memory.” –Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News
“[Men”ndez’s] details are so palpable, her narrative so believable and her research so deeply imbedded in her story . . . that readers could easily be hoodwinked into thinking they were reading a memoir instead of a novel. . . . In addition to being an exuberant and poetic look at loss and memory, Loving Che is also. . .an enticingly erotic re-imagining of the passionate first days of the Cuban Revolution.” –Chris Watson, The Santa Cruz Sentinel
‘menendez writes with sensual beauty and eloquence. The narration is flawless, and the drama of pre- and post-revolutionary Cuba comes alive with vivid and often lyrical detail.” –Nancy Chaplin, KLIATT
‘men”ndez’s book is clever, and well constructed. The style of Teresa’s writings is that of romantic fiction; the other parts more investigative memoir; the descriptions of Cuba rich and resonant. She spins out her enigmas with skill, giving readers food for thought about loss, and about the impossible dualities of Cuba itself and of individual lives within it.” –Julia Sutherland, The Financial Times
“The story, flicking back and forth in time as one would flick through a photo album, paints a powerful portrait of Cuba, and dwells on the fine line between the shadows of imaginings and the solidity of reality.” –Philippa Logan, The Oxford Times
“We are given a sense of the exciting changes and fears, hopes and mores of those heady and volatile early days of the revolution. . . . Loving Che is a well-crafted contemplation of history and myth, storytelling and memory.” –Robert Birnbaum, Central Journal News
“In Ana Menendez’s first novel, Loving Che, a young Cuban-American woman grapples to find [a] sense of self. . . . [The young woman’s] quest for discovery turns into an exhilarating detective story, where most of the clues are embedded in very raw emotions.” –Weirton Times
“Convincing and compelling. . . . Both parts of [Loving Che]–in Teresa’s voice and in her daughter’s–do considerably more rather than less to evoke the flavor and feeling of Havana, both the exotic and the dismal, with doubts, anomalies, and long, deep affections and sorrows intact.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Evocative. . . . Teresa’s poetic memories . . . are rich in sensual detail . . . and full of the terror and exhilaration of revolution. . . . The glimpses of vibrant 1950’s Cuba and Teresa and Che’s perfectly rendered relationship make this a moving novel from a writer to watch.” –Publishers Weekly
“Eloquent. . . . Men”ndez effortlessly switches between the two voices–that of the daughter, questioning but pragmatic, and of the mother, romantic, daring, and dramatic. . . . The writing is consistently beautiful. Highly recommended.” –Mary Margaret Benson, Library Journal
“[Loving Che] brings the Cuban experience to life.” –Michael Spinella, Booklist
“Like the story of Cuba itself, [Loving Che] is ultimately a history of disillusion, the pain of exile, and the continuing search for a credible sense of identity and place in history. . . . Teresa’s account aspires to, and very often achieves, that peculiarly Spanish blend of poetic luxury and economy of expression perfected by Lorca.” –Stephanie Merritt, The Observer (UK)
“A refreshingly different take on a subject and country about which few people are neutral.” –Nickie Witham, City Life (UK)
“[A] poised and elegant first novel. . . . It is breathtakingly convincing. . .its mood is perfect.” –The Irish Tatler (Dublin)
“Loving Che is an engrossing narrative that enraptures the reader as the layers of the story unfold. Sensuous and poignant, Men”ndez’s achie vement reads like poetry.” –Sara Kristof, Island Bookstore, Corolla, NC, Book Sense quote
A Book Sense Reading Group Suggestion
A San Francisco Chronicle Editorial Recommendation
A Rocky Mountain News Best Seller
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2004
Whenever I travel, I like to spend the last day of my journey in the old part of town, lingering for hours in junk stores whose dusty shelves, no matter where in the world they may be, always seem to be piled high with old magazines and books and yellowed photographs. I am a nervous flier, and this excavating into other people’s memories never fails to soothe my fears on the eve of departure. The photographs of strangers, especially, have always brought me a gentle peace, and over the years I have amassed a large collection of serious and formal-looking people caught in the camera’s moment. Many of the subjects of these old photographs, I’ve come to notice, carry a grave shadow about their mouths, as if they were already resisting the assertion that these images might represent their true selves. Some nights, when the blue hour is falling, I will take out one of my photographs and imagine that the stranger caught there is a half-forgotten old aunt, or a great-grandmother who smoked cigarettes from a long silver holder. But I know that I’m playing a game with history.
For all my imaginings, these images will remain individual mysteries, numbed and forever silenced by the years between us.
* * *
Some years ago, I became interested in the photographs that exiles had taken out of Cuba. It was common, I found, to frame the photos or place them in albums, to be taken out now and again in the company of friends. I thought I would construct a traveling exhibition of these photographs, and was even able to secure funding for the project. But I ran into delays and other problems. Many families, I was dismayed to learn, would not give up their photographs, not even for a few days. And when, in a purely innocent gesture, I agreed to accept the photographs of exiles who had fled Batista, my political motivations were put in question and the entire project fell apart.
Disillusioned, I abandoned my plans and came to interpret this fetish for the past as another of the destructive traits of the Cuban. Miami seemed to me in those years to be living in reverse. They named even their stores after the ones they had lost; and the rabid radio stations carried the same names as the ones they had listened to in Cuba, as if they were the slightly crazed sons of a once prominent family. This endless pining for the past seemed to me a kind of madness; everyone living in an asylum, exiled from the living, and no one daring to say it plainly.
I wonder now if this backward looking of the exile–the Cuban one in particular, so hysterical and easy to caricature–could be an antidote to a new and more terrible kind of madness. The exile, whatever the circumstances of his leaving, may wake up one night, as a traveler in an unfamiliar room, and wonder where it is he may set down his feet, in what direction lies the door by which he entered. Perhaps this trauma of separation–beginning from our very birth–is the normal sequence of things and to detach oneself, to learn to move freely about the world without longings or inventions, takes years of patient learning; and even then we may turn one day and find the years hollowing a dark canyon beneath us.
Of my own origins, I know little. I was raised by my grandfather in a western suburb of Miami in a small house that was almost indistinguishable from the other houses on the street. Every morning he walked me to school and every afternoon we returned home together. When he spoke it was to point out a particular type of tree that he wanted me to know about, or the name of a flower that was growing in someone’s garden. In the evenings, he would sit in his bare yellow chair and read for hours in silence. After, when I had gone to bed, my grandfather would turn on the shortwave radio he kept inside the cupboard. Every night, I drifted to sleep listening to stations coming in and out of tune, the peculiar whine punctuated now and then by a low-hummed bulletin in Spanish or the scratching notes of a danz”n played out over distances I could not yet fathom.
In my grandfather’s house there was no television set, no magazines, no photographs, only books and the quiet turning of pages. Of my parents, as of most things, he spoke little. I grew up with the understanding that my father had been in prison, and had died there, and that in her grief my mother had sent me away. If I asked my grandfather any questions of her when I was a child, I have little memory of it. Perhaps I sensed already that she had been part of some great disappointment, that she was one of the many things of the past that it was best not to speak about. It is true, also, that for the years of my childhood, my grandfather comprised the whole of the world I knew. Yet somehow, in spite of these buried sorrows, he had managed to give me an uneventful, even pleasant childhood; and what I remember most now are the ordinary markings of growing up: splashing in a plastic pool with the neighborhood kids, my Catholic school uniform and the comfort of being part of a group that agreed on important things. Perhaps my grandfather, with his private memories of turmoil, had set out to give me a bland and ordinary life; or perhaps that is the life that comes to those who have stopped struggling to make sense of things.
The time came, however, when my grandfather’s silence about my mother no longer satisfied me. As a girl I had already begun to sense a void behind me, and as I grew older I became more and more preoccupied with the blank space where my mother should have been. As I passed into my adolescence, I spent more and more time thinking about her, and in each imagining she grew more beautiful, more exciting, more different from the woman I myself was becoming. The easy respect, the love, I had shared with my grandfather slowly came to be overlaid with frustration and distrust. The more questions I had for him, the more he seemed to retreat into the quiet of his books. When I asked him once why he didn’t have one photograph of my mother that he could show me, he responded, simply, that she had never given him one.
Our disagreements always managed to skirt the edges of our loneliness, however, and I found I could never leave him. Even after I enrolled at the university I would return home every Saturday to sit with him for lunch. Sometimes, when the weather was good, he retreated to the porch after the meal to smoke a cigar. One day, instead of doing the dishes first as was my custom, I decided to join him right away. I sat beside him and after a moment decided to help myself to a cigar as well. My grandfather’s eyes widened ever so slightly for a moment, but he remained silent. I sat still, looking out into the yard. After a few minutes, he put out his cigar and I did the same. A bird called and then was gone. Something rustled in the grass. It had rained that morning and the breeze carried now the moist earth smell that reminds us we step on living ground.
I began by telling him about my classes. He asked me a few questions about what I was reading. He listened and then said, For literature there was no one like the Russians, not even Shakespeare. Only the Russians, my grandfather said, understood that a man cannot change his nature. I looked at him, but he didn’t turn to me. So one shouldn’t even try, I said. My throat burned, and the discomfort of it perhaps lent my voice an annoyance I hadn’t meant. My grandfather shrugged. Just accept, I continued. With this he turned to me and said, very softly, You have no right to be angry at me. At who then? I said, trying to keep my voice equally low. My grandfather didn’t respond. I don’t understand, I said slowly, how you could have gone these years without trying to get in touch with her. I paused. If only for me. My grandfather didn’t move and I continued, rushing now to fill up the pauses: I don’t understand how you have not one photograph, not one letter, not one document. For all I know I have been raised in a lie–what’s to keep me from thinking you didn’t kidnap me, or even that you’re not really my grandfather? With this last, I knew I had pushed too hard, and fell silent. After a long while, my grandfather said, You want documents, photographs. This is truth to you? I didn’t answer. I heard my grandfather shift in his chair, and then we were quiet. When I turned to him, I saw that his hand shook where he had brought it to his cheek.
After a long while, my grandfather said, We had a lemon tree in the courtyard of our house. A small tree–we grew it in a pot. But it gave good fruit. When she was a little girl, your mother used to pick the lemons and eat them one by one in little bites. My grandfather paused. Even then she was so beautiful that she did what she wanted. The effort would twist her little face, but still she would bite into it. My grandfather looked at me. His eyes turned down, but he managed a smile that deepened the lines in his face. Then he leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. This rain will be good for the ferns, he said. After a minute, I said, Why? I said it so quietly that he might not have heard me. He sat for a little while and then, pressing his hands against the wooden arms of his chair, he lifted himself up. The sliding glass door behind me opened and shut.
The shadows lengthened and then spread. I became aware gradually of music coming from the shortwave, and I recognized the sad voice of To’a la Negra. When the song was over, another came on, and then another, all of them carried on a whisper. I had scarcely moved. For some years, I had been aware in myself of a strange detachment, an aimlessness. I could sit for hours and do nothing, feel nothing. Now I heard every small rustle in the grass, every labored ant-step.
I sat out on the porch until it was almost dark. The sliding door opened again behind me and I turned. In his hands, my grandfather carried a worn piece of yellow paper.
It had been her idea, he said after he had settled into his chair. I didn’t want to take you away from her. But she insisted. She said she wanted you out of the country. My grandfather lit the small candle between us. He picked up the note again and when he sat back, his giant shadow materialized behind him. For years, I tried to contact her. Every May, on her birthday, I wrote her a letter. If I have no letters to show you now it’s only because she never responded. Some years ago, my grandfather continued after a moment, I asked a friend who was traveling to Havana to take her a package. My grandfather turned to me. Some drawings you had made, and yes, a school photograph of you. But when he got there, he found the house filled with five different families. Teresa had vanished.
My grandfather and I sat. In the silence, a far-off cricket sang, followed by the sound of the breeze rolling like a fire. She herself had arranged things, he continued. In six months, she would join us. My grandfather sighed and fingered one of the edges of the paper in his hands. In the candlelight he seemed older than ever, shadows exaggerating his bony fingers, highlighting the fragile fabric of the skin over his knuckles. When I applied to leave the country, he continued, the government took my house. I still had to wait for our visa. I had no choice but to move in with her, into the house I had given her. At night, I could hear you crying. Some nights, you cried all night long without stopping. I don’t know if she left you where you were, or if you cried in her arms; I never left my room. It was December, he said. The day we were to leave, she brought you to me, wrapped in several blankets. She laid you on the bed and you didn’t move, wrapped up like a little moth, big eyes looking out over the room, resting now and then on an object; it was almost as if you were taking inventory. She gave me a bag of your things–some clothes, bottles, and the brown bear that you lost one year at the fair. Remember how you’d cried? And I told you it was nothing, that we would get you another one. But you can imagine what I, too, felt.
My grandfather opened the paper in his hands. I had removed your blankets somewhere along the way. But it wasn’t until we arrived in Miami that I noticed that your mother had pinned a note to your sweater. I threw it away immediately, without reading it. And then that night, I took it out of the trash. I was never going to show it to you. What is the use of keeping these things? My grandfather smoothed the paper out on his lap and handed it to me with the same shaking hand I had noticed earlier.
I held the note in my hands for a long while. Finally I bent down to read by the yellow light of the candle.
Farewell, but you will be
with me, you will go within
a drop of blood circulating in my veins
I read the lines several times. And then I refolded the paper and sat looking out into the darkened yard until my grandfather rose, saying that the damp night would do us harm.
A few months later, I dropped out of college and began to travel. One windy December day, I drove up the coast to Sebastian Inlet. I stopped at a small hotel and became its only guest. The first morning, I took a magazine to the beach and sat out all day, wrapped in a blanket, listening to the waves. When the sun began to set, a flock of seagulls rose against the deepening sky like a hundred evening stars and I sat and watched them until night fell.
As the months and then years passed, I traveled farther and wider, my desire to keep moving always outpacing my small terror of planes, my fear of leaving. I was in India when I got word that my grandfather had died. It took me three days to get back to Miami, by which time I had missed the funeral. I stayed with friends for a few days before returning to my grandfather’s house to sort through his things. The first night alone in the house, I was unable to fight the feeling that at any minute he would turn a corner and wave in the shy manner he had. The house was filled with a new silence that seemed to muffle even my attempt to mourn. Unable to sleep, I sat up all night in his chair, reading one of his books on the growing and care of ferns.
Shortly after, I made my first trip to Cuba. When I landed and saw the capital by the red light of sunset, I knew I had returned to find my mother. I took a room at the Habana Libre and spent days walking my grandfather’s old neighborhood– knocking on doors, waving to women in their balconies, reciting to anyone who might listen the name of my mother and the three lines that were my only connection to where I had come from. I made several more trips, each as unsuccessful as the last. And though I met many people and passed out my address to anyone I thought might have known my parents, I waited in vain for word. Eventually, I stopped traveling to Havana, the trips leaving me more and more exhausted, not only from the uncertainty but from the sadness that I came to understand more clearly with each visit. Havana, so lovely at first glance, was really a city of dashed hopes, and everywhere I walked I was reminded that all in life tends to decay and destruction.
I settled in a small beach town north of Miami, supporting myself by writing short articles about the places I visited. I found that it was possible to write about a city without
having to talk to anyone. And I even came to believe that this was a more honest way to work, capturing the purity of place without the complications that human beings tend to introduce.
I traveled by myself and returned home alone and after a while decided that the unease that had settled over me would fade with time. One afternoon, when I had arrived at my house after weeks away, I found a package waiting for me. I would have let it remain unopened for another day had I not noticed that it had been forwarded from an old address in Miami Beach where I had lived for a time during my trips to Cuba.
The package, which had been postmarked in Spain without a return, was secured very carefully, and it was clear that someone had taken great care to protect its contents. The box itself was flat and rectangular and wrapped in a thick tape. Even so, its edges were soft and dark from wear. I turned the box over several times, trying to find where the strip of tape began. I thought I had found it on the back, but when I tried to put my nail under it, I saw that it was only a crease in the wrapping. After some time of this turning and turning of the box, I stood and went for a knife and gave the tape a quick cut. When I pulled, the tape peeled off cleanly and quickly, almost as if it had been of one piece. Beneath the tape, thin ropes wrapped around the box, indenting the edges. I tried to pull them off but finally these, too, I had to cut. I held the bare box in my hands now, the surface gone fuzzy where the tape had pulled away. It was not very heavy for its size. I shook it. Nothing rattled, nothing shifted. I moved to open it, but my fingers trembled on the box. I had to stop then and close my eyes, and after I had regained my peace, I peeled at one of the sides with my fingernail until the tab came loose.
The papers and photographs that spilled out smelled of dark drawers and dusty rooms. Some fell apart when I touched them. Some of the letters were written in such a small hand that it was as if the writer were whispering secrets into my ear. I hoped, at first, that by arranging the notes and recollections in some sort of order, I might be able to make sense of them. But on each rereading I found myself drawn deeper and deeper, until I feared I might lose myself among the pages, might drown in a drop of my own blood.
Copyright ” 2004 by Ana Men”ndez. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Who is the hero of the novel? The narrator? Teresa, the other narrator? The eponymous Che? Is the concept of “hero’ relevant to this book?
2. Do you think the book is a reliable window into Cuban politics, particularly the revolution? Teresa says that “it was the strange and dreadful excitement of a world turning, of everything staid and ordinary being swept away” (p. 50). What other points of view, other than Teresa’s, provide us with information about the Cuban revolution and its aftermath?
3. What other works of literature, art, or film have opened up Cuba for you? Buena Vista Social Club? Ana Men”ndez’s earlier book In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd? Do these works make you want to go to Cuba? How do these works make you feel about Cuba? Have they, in any way, changed your concept of that country?
4. Do you see a connection between Teresa’s recapturing Ernesto through her portrait of him and the narrator’s trying to retrieve her mother through memory and imagination?
Why did Teresa send her daughter away? Are her explanations on page 154 credible? ‘someday I would give you a good life. Someday when my lover returned . . . I was waiting. How could I have been of help to you? Already, I read him in every move of your hands, smelled him on your sweet baby’s breath. When you cried at night, I lay remembering the lost afternoons, how time had wrapped its eternity around us.” Is it her passion for Che as well as for art that leaves her no space to be a mother? When Teresa speaks of a divided heart, she is referring to her married love as well as her adulterous love. Could her divided heart also describe her love of her child at the same time that she persists in rejecting her?
6. How do we decide what is truth in the book? The narrator’s grandfather scorns her need for documented proof about her mother? Why? The book is filled with transitory lives and relationships, as though names were writ in water. What are some of these shifting, disappearing names and relationships?
7. How does the narrator’s being a nervous flier relate to her story? She explains that rummaging in junk stores for old magazines and faded photographs assuages her fears on the eve of a departure. Is this just fear of flying or is it a larger existential angst?
8. What motivates the quest of the narrator? Is it the need to fill the void her mother left? Is it an odyssey she needs to provide purpose in her life? To become more truly Cuban?
9. What kind of person is the Che who emerges both in Teresa’s memories and in the occasional more objective observations? Did you like the device of photographs interspersed? Why, or why not? Do you think all of us construct and revise our own histories through ‘scraps of memory” (p. 48)?
10. What are the consequences of loving someone bigger than life, someone whose “first desire is to wear furrows into the earth” (p. 113)? Che offers his own view: “No, he says, and his hands are already over my skin. No matter how much we try, we will always love some things more than others. And some things we will love so much that we will honor them until death (p. 119). Is he speaking of love for a person? Or for an idea, a revolutionary ardor? Both?
11. How are exile and madness linked? See the early pages, and consider the results of passion, nostalgia, and obsession. Does exile need to be geographic? Or can it be internal disassociation? Think of Caridad and her sense of floating and inexplicable paralysis.
12. What are some clues, true or false, that make the reader wary about reality in the story? For instance, “Even after all these years, I remember everything with a supernatural precision, with a certainty that is not given to actual life”(p. 130). How has Men”ndez created simultaneously a mystery or ghost story, a love story, and a tantalizing game with aesthetics?
13. Do you end by believing Teresa’s story? Is it possible the whole Che love story was an elaborate justification of her rejecting her daughter? Again, her overriding need to be an artist? Could even her artist life have been a fabrication? There seems to be no outside evidence of Teresa’s art, according to Ileana. What, however, does she say on pages 168-169 that leaves the door open? What does the narrator seem to believe by page 215?
14. Do you feel the narrator becomes her mother in the end? As she begins to see Che in every bush and palm tree, she wonders if “he was seeking me out; I began to wonder if the dead, too, have memory (p. 221).
15. What are some memorable images in Men”ndez’s writing? One example is “a black Chevrolet sequined with the reflection of street lamps’ (p. 22). How would you describe her style? Does she use evocative imagery to foreshadow and propel plot and character development? For instance, “But even before all that, even before I knew him, that day in my studio, I could see the death that gently draped him” (p. 66). Can you find other examples?
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER READING
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson; The African Dream: The Diaries of the Revolutionary War in the Congo by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, translated from the Spanish by Patrick Camiller; Back on the Road: A Journey Through Latin America by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, translated from the Spanish by Patrick Camiller; Five Decades: A Selection of Poems: 1925-1970 by Pablo Neruda, translated from Spanish by Ben Belitt; Selected Poems by Pablo Neruda, edited and translated from Spanish by Ben Belitt; Old Rosa and the Brightest Star by Reinaldo Arenas, translated from the Spanish by Ann Tashi Slater and Andrew Hurley; Leaving Tabasco by Carmen Boullosa, translated from the Spanish by Geoff Hargreaves; Remember Me by Trezza Azzopardi