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3.7 out of 5 stars
Telex from Cuba
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 11 November 2013
Kushner's first novel is an account of the Cuban Revolution, led by Fidel Castro, told largely from the point of view of the Americans living in Cuba in the 1950s, in particular a group living in Oriente Province who worked for the United Fruit Company and who mostly supported Cuba's tyrannical president Batista. Kushner has a vast cast of Americans, including two teenagers (K.C. Stites and Everly Lederer - why both the male Stites and the female Lederer have such androgynous Christian names in the 1950s I'm not sure), their parents and siblings, an unhappy wife who has a crush on a Cuban factory owner, a working-class American family who are trying their luck away from the USA and various other couples in various degrees of prosperity and right-wingery. There are also a couple of teen rebels - K.C.'s older brother Del, and a boy called Phillip Mackey - who sympathise with Castro's cause. Alongside their story runs another, set in Havana, which tells the adventures of Christian de La Maziere, a French aristocrat who joined the Nazis in World War II and is now offering his sympathy to Castro's men, without much caring for their cause, and a 'zazou' dancer called Rachel K, who pretends to be French but is in fact Cuban, who is spying for Castro, and sleeping with him, Batista and La Maziere. Kushner plays around with reality here, as La Maziere was a real person - but never in fact went to Cuba or was involved in the revolution.

Kushner describes Cuba in the 1950s immaculately, and I learnt a good deal about the politics of the time that I hadn't known before reading the book. She painted a convincing and interesting picture of ex-pat American life in Cuba, and of the seedy glamour of Havana. However, though the historical/political side of my brain was engaged, I never got particularly caught up in the novel. The character are thinly portrayed, and few are developed in detail. Although we get quite a lot of the story narrated by K.C. and Everly, I never felt I got to know either of them particularly well or was encouraged to empathize with them. Characters had a habit of turning up and then suddenly disappearing only to resurface some 50 pages later, which meant that one had to concentrate very hard all the time simply to keep abreast of who was who. I also found the thriller aspect of the story involving La Maziere and Rachel K unlikely - and again both characters were seriously under-developed (we never learn why La Maziere joined the Nazis and if he had Nazi sympathies or was just an opportunist, or indeed why he is working for the Cuban revolutionaries, or why Rachel K is committed to the revolution). The teasing parallel between the author's name and her character Rachel K's name I found annoying rather than witty. And it was hard to feel much about either La Maziere or Rachel K: the trouble with having characters that constantly lie is that one can never quite grasp their personalities. This side of the story also had a tendency to get overly sensational - as in the scene where La Maziere is raped by Fidel Castro! The pacing of the novel was also slightly odd - a long, leisurely depiction of US life in Cuba (based on Kushner's own mother's experiences as a child, apparently) and then a rush of action at the end when the revolution began, and a very quick epilogue set some forty years later. The ending, with Everly revisiting Cuba as an old woman, was beautiful but felt a bit brief.

I came away from the novel feeling that Kushner is very talented, but her rather detached style, and lack of real emotional involvement with her characters didn't quite suit me. Interestingly I see readers have raised this point about her second novel, 'The Flamethrowers', which I am going to read next. Still - for all my reservations this was certainly an interesting way to find out a bit more about Cuban history.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 4 March 2009
I started this book without a clue as to what it was about, as I like to approach a book fresh and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. The writing is gorgeous, the story intense, even though I knew right from the start how it had to end, and the history, well let's just say it's a piece of history I didn't learn in school.

Much of the story takes place in the fine homes of the expatriates who run the United Fruit company based in Preston and the nickel mines in Nicaro in Cuba's Oriente province. A Poor Place for Cubans to live, not so for the Americans who lived in a kind of opulence which reminds one of the pre Civil War South in the United States. Like those Americans back then, these Americans don't mingle with those they perceive to be beneath them, many treat the Cubans like slaves. If the Americans only knew, only cared how the Cubans thought about them, maybe the story would have had a different ending.

Not only do the Americans think they are a class or two above the Cubans, but they separate themselves into classes as well. At the top of the heap are the Stiteses, headed by Malcolm Stites, the tough and brutal head of the United Fruit Company. Next in line are the Lederers who live in Nicaro and who's patriarch is the manager of the Nickel Mine. And then there is the Allains, who are poor refuges from Louisiana. However poor though they might have been their class status is infinitely higher than it would have been back in Cajun country.

Events in the country seem to go unnoticed by the Americans who live in their enclaves and, you know, Cuba then isn't the only place that happens. I have a friend who is a Geologist and he's told me stories about the Americans who lived in the expat compounds in Libya and I have to wonder if we can ever learn. Back to this story, it's told from several viewpoints, including that of one of the Stites and one of the Lederer children, so we get to see events unfold from almost innocent eyes and it's very informative.

As I said, we know how the story has to end, but that doesn't take away anything at all, because sometimes how you got there is as important to the story as where you wind up is. If we could learn, maybe we wouldn't repeat what happened in Cuba, because it's very evident from Ms. Kuchner's story that if the Americans would have behaved differently, the ending might have been much more satisfying.
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on 6 August 2015
Kathe Hopkins sums up for me what this book has and has not. I empathise with her on the character development and the flitting from years back to near modern times. I was disappointed with this as it could have been a good story and I am well versed with the revolutionary history of Cuba and the Americans land holdings and their grip on the economics of the country which were the prime movers in the birth of the Castro take over. I expected more from this book;
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on 25 August 2014
Telex from Cuba gives a fascinating and sympathetic insight into the lives and attitudes of mostly non-Cubans living in Cuba before and during the revolution.
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on 16 June 2014
Interesting on background history of Cuba which I didn'tt know anything about
Variety of characters
Perhaps a bit diffuse
Worth reading
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on 29 August 2014
An enjoyable and informative novel with a cast of interesting characters. Well structured and well written
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on 11 August 2015
Read this novel before you go... I look forward to reading more of Rachel Kushner's work.
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on 24 October 2014
Quite interesting about past times in Cuba, not a particularly exiting read.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
TELEX FROM CUBA, Rachel Kushner's debut novel came trailing praise by the New York Times as one of the 100 most notable books of 2008. And these days, critics are getting excited about Kushner's latest release, The Flamethrowers, which I've not yet had a chance to read.

However, I read and greatly liked TELEX. It is set in a time and place that are deeply interesting to me, Cuba in the late 1950's, as Fidel Castro's recruits gathered in the hills, ready to kick out then president for life, General Fulgencio Batista, and take over the country. The novel, set in the American community - read the United Fruit community, in Oriente province, a rural, tropical Eden for a while, for the few ex-pats who tended the sugar cane business, is the first to be set in this milieu, and tell this story: the Americans were to be evicted in 1958.

Other reviewers have criticized the historical accuracy of the work. Well, all I know about Cuba, I learned from repeatedly listening to the 1997 record, Buena Vista Social Club; and viewing the DVD: Buena Vista Social Club [1999] [DVD]. I've never gone there, and doubt that I ever will: still I greatly enjoyed the views of the beautiful seaside, pastel city of Havana, the lush countryside, and oh! The music. I found TELEX to have packed a lot into its pages: a panoramic, complex, multi-character plot. Other reviewers have also criticized Kushner's use of children as narrators; I'm not generally a great lover of children in books, but this didn't bother me this time. Furthermore, you've got redolent descriptive writing, of countryside, music, and even the processes of growing/refining/shipping sugar cane, and mining nickel. Playful interludes. Resonant arcs of international drifters, trying to hide secret pasts including murder, treachery, adultery, and socially unacceptable parentage.

I recently saw and heard Kushner speak at the Los Angeles Times Book Fair. She was, of course, witty, well-spoken, organized in her thoughts, quite presentable. Kushner co-edits the literary and art journal "Soft Targets" she has a BA from the University of California at Berkeley and an MFA from Columbia University. Her mother grew up in this American enclave in Cuba, and evidently remembered some riveting telexes. The author's made fine use of them.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 January 2014
It claims to be a novel, but describes conversations and relationships with historical figures some of whom are living. This is "faction". The end tapers away.
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