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on 10 October 2010
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.
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on 27 February 2010
A very powerful autobiography, the story of Reinaldo Areinas' life together with his reflections on life.

Areinas is born to a single mother in a large but not entirely fulfilled extended family, lives initially under Batista, plays some small part in the revolution, lives under Cuba, explores his sexuality, expresses his artistic drive - against the grain of the society in which he lives, is arrested and serves time in various prisons, is released (the story palls just a little at this point), leaves Cuba (the most dramatic episode of the book), lives in the US and dies of AIDS.

Areinas' life is remarkable: it is entirely self-created, not the product of family, society (Cuban or Western - he is as accurate a critic of Western values and lifestyles as he is of Cuba, while remaining clear where both rank in scheme of values) or any form of political creed. His character too is remarkable - though he attempts suicide a couple of times, it's with good reason. He retains optimism and belief in a better world and maintains some remarkable personal friendships across time.

Strongly recommended!
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on 5 May 1999
I really enjoyed this book. As I said before, Reinaldo Arena described in a very Cuban way the reality of the gay community in pre-revolutionary time, the persecution and the double repression he had to suffer because his duality as a gay and as an independent writer censored by the Castro machinery.
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on 19 April 2016
I read this book because I was visiting Cuba and wanted to know what life was like under the Communist regime there. This autobiography describes how Reinaldo Arenas is persecuted for being both gay and a critic of the government. Unable to publish his work in Cuba he infuriates the regime by having them smuggled out of the country and published in France. As a result he is arrested, forced to sign a recantation of all his beliefs, then sent to prison, whose squalid conditions he describes in some detail. But more than that he describes what life is like for a writer who is out of favour and thus unable to get a job: grinding poverty, government surveillance, betrayal by friends who are government informers, the constant search for somewhere to hide his banned manuscripts, and for friends that he can trust. The book made me aware of the moral compromises I was making in going to Cuba and thereby providing an oppressive autocracy with hard currency. That said, it is a story of a life lived to the full and is populated with colourful characters and unlikely situations that make it an entertaining read.

Why then only 3 stars? Because, it was not what I expected. Arenas was clearly a very highly sexed man, and 40-50% of the book is a history of his gay sexual encounters, which, although amusing in places, quickly became tiresome. Another 10-20% consists of character studies of Cuban writers that you have probably never heard of (I hadn't), leaving just 40-50% about the rest of his life which was the part I was primarily interested in. He also comes across as slightly unhinged. It is a life that I would prefer to read about than to have lived.
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on 12 June 1999
Despite the horrors revealed in this mini-autobiography the true story must never be lost. Reinaldo Arenas never surrendered to the demons of self-pity and delusion, despite the hell he encountered on the road to Calvary. What a journey! What a man!
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on 11 May 2016
I read a copy of this in Spanish while in Cuba, but thought I should review it here too, as I loved it so much.

You can smell the Cuban night seeping out of the pages of this book. A tale of a writer struggling against the regime, his part in the revolution, numerous comedic escape attempts and tireless re-writing and smuggling of his first novel while being persecuted by the communist government under Castro. And an insight into the clandestine life of a gay man in an oppressive society.

Despite some of his grim experiences, especially of prison, there are some hilarious moments in this book. It was a delight to read it in his home country.
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on 14 April 1999
I learned more about Castro's regime than in any history book I've ever read. Its frightening to know that such terrible ostracities occur so close to our shores, as I don't doubt they are still happening. It is also inspiring to read about the human spirit and its fortitude. I have purchased Arena's other books to read. His style is a clash between raw earth and intellect. I recommend for serious reading.
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on 12 September 2013
Easy to read and a very real description of life in Cuba under the regime of Castro.
Definitely worth reading!
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on 11 October 1998
This book is a pleasure to read, though the subject matter is quite harsh. Arenas writes in such a manner as to draw the reader in. His themes are treated with wonderful humor that does not diminish their power.
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on 6 January 2015
A moving true reflection of Cuba in the 50's. Life before and after the dictator took power.
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