I was invited to review Portuguese writer João Cerqueira’s novel The Tragedy of Fidel Castro. The title intrigued me because of my interest in the Cuban Revolution.
Right off the book warns that the names and characters are fictitious. Even, “God does not represent God.” I wondered who God does represent in Cerqueira’s mind. The novel uses many well-known fictitious protagonists such as Fidel Castro, Che, JFK, J. Edgar Hoover, Christ, David, Uriah, Lucifer, along with lesser known characters such as spies, chocolate-deprived soldiers, Madames, priests, monks, etc. I found this literary device to be diffident and craven.
One might surmise, however, that an author’s inclinations and philosophy are revealed by his writing. This is not readily apparent because of the dialectic approach in The Tragedy of Fidel Castro that is focused on and around the characters of Castro and JFK.
Communism and capitalism are both subject to scorn in the novel. In a discussion with JFK, Castro’s spy, Varadero, laments the soul-controlling logic of capitalism. However, later Varadero becomes increasingly fascinated with capitalism causing him to become skeptical of the Cuban Revolution.
Religious mythology is woven throughout the story serving as a dialectical tool. The story of a lecherous David, unfaithful Bathsheba, and betrayed Uriah is used “to prove the bloodthirsty nature of Capitalism … and the need to educate the people to overthrow despots.”
The novel opens with the miracle of the sun in the Portuguese village of Fátima where some children claimed that the Virgin (another claim) Mary appeared in 1917. Cerqueira draws upon the religious phantasmagoria associated with the event with his character of Fátima, a follower of Christ in The Tragedy of Fidel Castro who is intent upon conjuring an eclipse.
Christianity accuses Castro. Fátima tells Christ that Castro is undoubtedly worse than JFK because “he believes he is God himself. He closed the churches, forced priests to work, and this story of building a society in which all men are equal is shameless plagiarism of your ideas…”
“He was always a crook, a hypocrite.” And to adduce her point, Fátima seriously (but with comedic effect) asks, “Why does he have a beard in that tropical climate?”
Castro comes off variously. Cuba’s economy is described as “artificially bolstered by the state.” Which economy isn’t? The Cuban Revolution is described as a diverging consensus over which Castro presides as a father over children; in shady moments he even resorts to smearing opponents with trumped-up charges to disappear persistent dissidents. The demise of one Camilo Ochoa is given as an example.
Castro is depicted as ruthless, “an absolute guardian” of the Revolution who sees himself as “inseparable from the revolution. One cannot exist without the other” … “an essential dictator,” as Varadero puts it, and Castro agrees.
The story is imaginative and well written, but overall I found The Tragedy of Fidel Castro an irritating read. Despite the disclaimers, it comes across as fiction posing as fact. This is supported by a note that follows at the novel’s end. It informs that Camilo Ochoa stems from a combination of Camilo Cienfuegos and general Arnaldo Ochoa, “two heroes of the revolution” who opposed Castro’s “regime state” and were killed for their opposition. Cerqueira admits Castro’s guilt is unproven.