A Hun­dred Fires in Cuba

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews | Adult Fiction - JOSEPH S. PETE

John Thorndike Beck and Branch (AU­GUST) Soft­cover $15 (330pp) 978-0-9972644-7-0

John Thorndike’s A Hun­dred Fires in Cuba is a rang­ing, un­flinch­ing story of the Cuban Revolution, focused on the “beau­ti­ful com­man­der, the hero of Yagua­jay, the wildly fa­mous Camilo Cien­fue­gos.”

One of Cas­tro’s most loyal com­man­ders, Cien­fue­gos was as well known for wom­an­iz­ing, danc­ing, and drink­ing as he was for his courage on the bat­tle­field. This com­pelling novel cap­tures the folk hero, can­nily us­ing an out­sider’s per­spec­tive to shine light on mat­ters of great his­tor­i­cal im­port.

While he is in New York City, Cien­fue­gos falls in love with a young Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher, Clare Miller. Their af­fair, which ends when he’s de­ported, results in a daugh­ter whom he fears. Clare ro­man­ti­cizes the beau­ti­ful, pow­er­ful, ri­fle-tot­ing co­man­dante, but she har­bors no il­lu­sions about the revolution or his qual­i­fi­ca­tions as a par­ent.

The prose is el­e­gantly crafted. It’s not flashy, but it is ef­fec­tive. Word choices are lean, taut, and pur­pose­ful. Just enough Span­ish is sprin­kled in to be au­then­tic, mak­ing the book seem thor­oughly re­searched and au­thor­i­ta­tive. De­pic­tions of com­mu­ni­cat­ing in a for­eign land are cap­ti­vat­ing, bring­ing to life the re­sul­tant dis­place­ment and alien­ation; some over-enun­ci­ate, and oth­ers “talk like auc­tion­eers, too fast to un­der­stand.” Though this is clearly a work of fic­tion, the novel feels like a de­fin­i­tive ac­count of a lesser-told nar­ra­tive in a his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant time.

Solid, fully re­al­ized char­ac­ters—both real and fic­ti­tious—come across re­al­is­ti­cally, ground­ing the book. Clare’s psy­chol­ogy is es­pe­cially well es­tab­lished.

A Hun­dred Fires in Cuba is a so­phis­ti­cated his­tor­i­cal novel that ef­fec­tively de­ploys a love tri­an­gle to cap­ture the essence of a re­mark­able fig­ure and the his­toric pe­riod that pro­duced him, lay­ing bare the yearn­ings of the heart.

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