Thursday, November 01, 2012

Cuba: My Revolution

Sometimes it's a nagging around the edges of the mind that wins the day on the purchase of a book.  Dean Haspiel's name was one of those distant recollections whose origin and significance was lost but was nonetheless enough for me to buy Cuba: My Revolution.  The fact that it was on sale half price at the Baltimore ComiCon and the topic was one woman's experience of the Cuban Revolution didn't hurt, either.  I like a good perspective story that doesn't pretend to be an objective "truth" of historical events.

Turns out Haspiel worked with Bill Sienkiewicz on The New Mutants and with Walt Simonson on Thor in the best periods of both books, a way back in the '80s.  Both are some of my favorite works, both in the period and overall.  In fact, I still have all of them.

Inverna Lockpez lived the story, sort of.  A lot of it is taken from her life, but some parts are fictional or representative.  Who knows which is which?  Lockpez, I hope, but not me.  Whatever elements aren't from her life are incorporated so well with those that are that it's seamless and believable.  Nothing fantastical and out of the realm of possibility.

Sonya is 17 in 1958 when the Cuban Revolution is on the cusp of overthrowing the Batista dictatorship.  She wants to be an artist.  Her mother wants her to be a doctor, like her father (who is a Russian expatriate, divorced from her mother).  She and her mother, though upper middle class, both support Castro's revolution.  Her stepfather is more neutral to opposed, but mostly just wants to run his restaurant.

Once the revolution succeeds Sonya decides to become a doctor to benefit the revolution.  She's still in medical school when the Bay of Pigs invasion occurs.  She sees a lot, including that her boyfriend, who was living in the US at the time of the revolution, and who had been a Castro supporter, has returned as an invader.  He's killed in the invasion but manages to give her a keepsake. 

This keepsake leads to her being imprisoned and tortured by the Castro regime.  Despite that she maintains faith in the goals of the regime and excuses its methods.  Her mother, though, has had enough.  She and her husband, who have now had a baby, work to escape Cuba.  They try to get visas through family already in the US but are impatient and make a couple of feeble, almost comical, attempts to escape by other means. 

In the meantime, Sonya has become an artist.  She eventually runs afoul of the state again because her art isn't socialist enough.  She also falls in love with another artist who also has conflicts with the state.  In time she, her mother, her step-father, and her half-sister all leave for the US by visa.  She leaves her lover behind, though. 

All this takes place over the course of 8 years, ending in 1966.  The beatings she suffered in prison didn't cause her to lose faith in the revolution.  The revolution's suppression of her art did.

There's a lot to like about this book.  It's condemnations of the US support for Batista are matched by the the disillusion and condemnation of Castro.  The title is a wonderful double entendre.  Sonya feels like she owns a piece of the Cuban Revoluation in its early years, but the books describes her own revolution over the 8 years it covers.

As to Haspiel's art, he uses only pen and ink with shades of red for emphasis.  It's a good choice.  The style and the spare coloring evoke a bygone era, which the Cuban Revolution certainly is, despite the lingering presence of the Castro brothers and the ever fervent expatriates of Florida.  The red splashes highlight while remaining subtle.  Contradictory descriptions, to be sure, but accurate.  The reds can draw the eye to elements like blood or moments of intense pain, but at other times it's simple a red dress or red roses.

Lockpez still lives in the US and has been an artist since her arrival.  While the US has a tendency to support suppression in other countries, she had plenty of freedom to express her art however she wished in the US.  Perhaps the book can remind some policymakers of why freedom of expression should be supported abroad as well as at home.

Altogether an excellent book, well worth the full price, and easily a steal at sale price.

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