Although I originally published this review before I launched Ratskellar Reads, I am republishing it now since 'Telex' has just been nominated for the National Book Award! I loved 'Telex from Cuba'--it was probably my favorite book this summer--so I'm rooting for it hard!
Rachel Kushner's "Telex From Cuba" is an excellent first novel, probably the best one I have read this year. The novel creates a vivid view of pre-Castro Cuba--a country full of life, color, and dark secrets.
Despite the description on the book flap, "Telex" is really an ensemble tale, covering the six years before Castro's Revolution in Cuba through the eyes of a group of Americans that are in Cuba working for American companies. The novel's storytellers are mostly women and children, whose collective naivety of the strings holding up their comfortable lives in a tropical paradise brings an interesting perspective to the story. As the story progresses all of the characters become more aware of the oppressive conditions that make their lives possible, and of the rebel cause that exists beyond their picturesque doorstep.
Although the novel jumps around a lot between characters and their distinctive narrative voices, it does not feel choppy. Kushner does an excellent job of timing the increasing awareness of her characters along with the progression of the rebellion so that both crescendo at the same time, creating an excellent pace and intensity in the novel. Even though as the reader you know how the revolution and the story will ultimately end, Kushner's narrative style keeps you engaged throughout.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a compelling read, or anyone with an interest in Castro's Revolution or Cuban history. The book certainly made me more interested in several of its central subjects--the United Fruit Company, Castro's Revolution, US Government involvement in Cuba--and gave me a new perspective on the consequences of Cold War politics and American Imperialism.