Steve Weinberg reviews Elizabeth Huergo’s The Death of Fidel Perez. FOllow the link below for the original report.
Cuba is the setting of Elizabeth Huergo’s debut novel, a remarkable fiction that hovers between gritty reality and magical realism. More than most novels, “The Death of Fidel Perez” must rely on the suspension of disbelief among potential readers.
Born in Havana, Huergo left Cuba as a youngster, a political refugee. She settled in Virginia, where she writes poetry and short stories. After she completed the manuscript that became “The Death of Fidel Perez,” it ended up with an editor at Unbridled Books, known for its high-quality first fiction.
The novel opens on July 26, 2003, the 50th anniversary of a revolutionary act against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. Among the revolutionary leaders in real life were Fidel Castro and his younger brother Raul, who gained power six years later. The Castro regime was perhaps not as brutal against the citizenry as the Batista regime had been. But Cuba, declared an enemy by the U.S. government because of communist leanings, turned into a society marked by privation and restlessness.
In Huergo’s fertile imagination, a somewhat unremarkable event could spark a new revolution, aimed at the Castro regime. So, on July 26, 2003, two dissolute young men fall off the balcony of their crumbling apartment and die. Their names are Fidel and Rafael Perez.
A neighborhood cry arises: “Fidel and his brother are dead.” As the news spreads beyond the neighborhood, people believe Fidel and Raul Castro have died. Crowds gather, a dissident movement arises, and it appears a new dawn will arrive in Cuba.
Huergo drives the plot through four primary characters and the ghosts from their pasts. Justicio, an aging bicycle-cab driver, reaches the dead Perez brothers first and remains blissfully unaware that the growing mobs have confused them with the Castro brothers.
Pedro Valle, an elderly history professor who was imprisoned and tortured as an enemy of the Castro regime, is haunted by the ghost of Mario, a revolutionary who was tortured along with Valle and then was “disappeared.”
The dialogue between Valle and the imagined Mario consumes a significant portion of the book; Huergo uses those pages to convey a version of Cuban history that casts the United States as an imperialistic villain.
The other protagonists are Camilo, a student of Professor Valle’s, an impassioned young man who rises to inspire the street mobs; and Saturnina, an elderly homeless woman, obsessed with the memory of her son Tomas, a reformer crushed by the violence of the Castro-Batista struggles.
As readers sort through the detritus of the past and present, of living and dead characters, perhaps the most poignant lesson is one stated by Huergo through her character Valle: “History is the lies we agree on.”
For the original report go to http://www.cleveland.com/books/index.ssf/2013/04/elizabeth_huergos_the_death_of.html