Saturday, August 21, 2010

Before Night Falls: A MemoirBefore Night Falls: A Memoir

by Reinaldo Arenas

"One of the most nefarious characteristics of tyrannies is that they take everything too seriously and destroy all sense of humor. . . with the coming of Fidel Castro the sense of humor gradually disappeared until it become illegal. With it the Cuban people lost one of their few means of survival; by taking away their laughter, the revolution took away from them their deepest sense of the nature of things. Yes, dictatorships are prudish, pompous, and utterly dreary."
- Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas, p 239

More than two decades ago I read a devastating memoir, 'Against all Hope' by Armando Valladares, that depicted the brutality of Castro's Cuba from the view of a prison cell. Now I have encountered a comparable memoir in 'Before Night Falls'. His memoir, just as shocking as that by Valladares, is above all a book about being free -- as an artist, a citizen, and a human. Recounting his journey from a poverty-stricken childhood in rural Cuba (undoubtedly a more severe life than poverty in America due to the lack of infrastructure in Cuba) Arenas narrates his life over four decades until his death in New York. His farewell letter at the end of the memoir is as touching as anything I have ever read. He lead a life filled with action for the defense of individual freedom of humanity in his home of Cuba; but he also lived a life that was Kafkaesque with episodes of imprisonment and suppresion of his writing by Castro's Cuba. It is a story that reminds me more of the Inferno of Dante (which I recently read) than life on earth, even recognizing that we do not live in a paradise. Arenas' memoir is a great work of art, but also a tribute to the spirit of man.

Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas. Penguin Books, New York. 1994

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