Telex from Cuba
By Rachel Kushner
(Scribner, Paperback, 9781416561040, 336pp.)
Publication Date: June 2, 2009
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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 is a coeditor of the art and literary journal Soft Targets and a frequent contributor to Artforum. A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley and Columbia University’s MFA program in writing, she has worked as an editor at both Bomb and Grand Street magazines. She currently lives in Los Angeles.
"Multilayered and absorbing... Studded with illuminating images....Kushner has fashioned a story that will linger like a whiff of decadent Colony perfume."
-- Susann Cokal, The New York Times Book Review (cover review)
"With its sharp detail and precisely drawn characters, Telex from Cuba offers a compelling look at a paradise corrupted." -- People magazine (pick of the week, 3½ stars out of 4)
"Telex From Cuba exerts the mysterious pull of a super-saturated postcard from a distant land, sent to you by a stranger. Kushner brilliantly transforms her family history -- and history -- into a page-turning, elegantly intelligent, and politically enlightening novel that rings as true as anything. Hers is an epic achievement." -- Heidi Julavits, author of The Uses of Enchantment
"Imagination and intelligence luxuriate in Rachel Kushner's fascinating first novel. I marvel at how Kushner blends psychological and political realities, corporate America and insurgent Cuba, into a vivid diptych of the days before Castro's revolution. Rich in compelling characters and historical events, Telex From Cuba is a revelatory, tenderhearted, and powerful work." -- Lynne Tillman, author of American Genius, A Comedy
"Telex From Cuba is a prodigious work, sparking into life throughout its pages, beautifully balanced in its views of plantation society and the revolutionary force that ultimately overthrows it, written without bombast or self-referring language, as if the writer is so intent on the people she portrays, she writes of them with a kind of rare innocence, the innocence of the true observer who submits to the power of the tale she tells." -- Paula Fox, author of The Coldest Winter