ningerbil (ningerbil) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
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50bookchallenge

Book 9- Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas

9. Before Night Falls, by Reinaldo Arenas. This book, an autobiography, fulfills the category for reading a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative. Arenas grew up in Cuba, but was (barely) able to immigrate to the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel Boatlift. Arenas lived in Miami for a short time before moving to New York.
He was an early supporter of Fidel Castro's revolution, but quickly became disenchanted with the Communist movement. It was heartbreaking to read about how he believed that one day Fidel Castro would be overthrown (Arenas died in 1990 at age 47 of an intentional overdose, three years after being diagnosed with AIDS.) Arenas describes, with raw honesty, his joining the Revolution, his growing realizations of how much worse things were becoming, his time in jail and his constant surveillance even after being released. He relates the grinding poverty, the hunger and the constant fear and persecution he and those around him experienced. It's astounding he was able to leave the country at all. He probably would have died in prison had it not been for the friendships he made with people in other countries, and the fact that his books had been published in France. It was fascinating to read how he was able to keep his writings hidden, and how he was able to smuggle a good deal of his work out of the country. It's an eye-opening account of life in Cuba under Castro's regime, and the stories Arenas tells are chilling.
One warning about this book: It's explicit. I mean, really explicit. Even at a young age (we're talking single digits here), Arenas had sexual exploits. To say Arenas was promiscuous would be an understatement. It's what he grew up with; the activities he engaged in at what most would consider an appallingly young age (not to mention just plain appalling) were the norm where he grew up. This realization was the only thing that kept me reading the book, otherwise I would have stopped early on. As it was, this one was a struggle to get through at times; it's borderline pornographic. At one point, Arenas said he probably had more than a thousand lovers, and I have no trouble believing that. I get the impression he didn't know the names of all of them, either. Yikes. I admit I would have trouble recommending this book due to this; it's a good read for those wanting to find out more about Cuba, from someone who saw and experienced the worst of what the Castro regime had to offer. But it's definitely not for the easily offended, and I think even those who consider themselves open-minded are going to struggle with some aspects of the explicit content.
Tags: autobiography
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