Book Review: The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by Joao Cerqueira

Right from the start, the author of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro gives us a wink by distancing his fictional characters from their exceptionally famous namesakes. Christ, God, JFK bear no resemblance to their well-known counterparts. Only Fidel Castro ‘has some similarities with the revolutionary leader and dictator.’
A bold beginning which sets the tone for what’s to come, with the reader plunged into the realms of the satirical and surreal, a world of fantasy instantly recognisable as our own.
The title of Cerqueira’s novel is indeed its theme and a vivid, sometimes painful, picture is painted of Castro as an ailing dictator, struggling to maintain control over his country. The futility and pathos underlying this echoes the prevalent mood of Marquez’ The Autumn of the Patriarch.
Amidst the irreverent and ironic humour of the book, there’s also some poignant and revealing moments. Towards the end of the story, Castro briefly re-experiences the strength of his charismatic powers but realises that: the price he had paid for the fear of being assassinated – losing contact with the people –
had maybe been greater than death itself.
Meanwhile, God and Christ look on over the proceedings which play out like the final stand-off between Capitalism and Communism. At the beginning, Christ is understandably apprehensive about returning to earth given his fate the last time round but God, in a delightfully human act of coercion, plays the guilt card in order to shift responsibility on to the shoulders of his son. Christ responds with hurt – an equally human emotion – to the inference that both JFK and Castro were influenced by his own teachings. In a quiet moment of self-reflection, Christ begins to doubt his own convictions, wondering if his theories about social equality are, ultimately, utopian.
It’s this bleak depiction of the human condition which underpins the clever humour of the novel and, at times, I found it difficult to reconcile the two as pessimism offset my laughter. Having said that, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is more than worth reading. While not for the intellectually fainthearted, its playful and imaginative scope creates a vast and fantastical landscape which forever verges on our own.


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