This isn't a book for the prudish or the faint-hearted. From chapter one it describes not just homosexual activities but bestiality, incest and a general array of sexual experiences described in blunt honesty. That aside, I loved this book. It describes life as a poor peasant under Batista's regime, life as a revolutionary under Castro, life as a writer in Cuba in the face of censorship and opression, life as an ordinary Cuban, trying to survive financially despite shortages and the blockade, life as a prison inmate, and finally, of course, it describes life as a homosexual in a country which considered it a perversion.
For me it was a valuable and detailed account of the various aspects of life in Communist Cuba. The most striking quality however was that it communicated the extent to which mistrust, uncertainty and duplicity are a part of daily life in Cuba. As someone who spent nearly five months living in Havana, I had previously thought that never knowing who you can trust, and being lied to by people who claim to be your friends, was an experience specific only to foreigners in Cuba. Reading this book I came to realise that a sad reality of life under Castro's regime is that noone ever knows who they can trust. As people like Arenas did their best to be true to themselves either as writers or as homosexuals, the government, with its vast network of social and political controls was doing its very best to supress opposition and anything it considered counter-revolutionary. Networks of informers and committees for the defense of the revolution were not only expressions of Castroist support, but also constituted opportunities for social and economic advancement and, at times more importantly, refuges of protection against a government which seemed to consider almost everyone its enemy. In such an environment, the ability to portray both an authentic and a false persona were essential to survival, and at times people Arenas considered some of his truest friends, were also informing on him to the government, as a means of avoiding punishment for their own 'counter-revolutionary' activities. Life in Cuba left me with a lot to try to understand and with a profound appreciation for freedom of expression. This book re-ignited for me that awareness of just how hard some people are fighting for the right to be true to themselves, and was a valuable opportunity for me to understand a little bit more of something I probably never will in its entirety.