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Editorial Reviews

We may be 50 years past the Cuban revolution, but Rachel Kushner's debut novel, Telex from Cuba, weaves the tale of the years preceding the event with such warmth and urgency, that this forgotten time seems the most present thing in the world. Kushner writes from what she knows—and good thing for us. A trained journalist and editor whose American mother grew up in imperialist Cuba of the 1950s, she combines meticulous historic research with a rich world of fictional characters that brings those details to life. It's a multi-perspective narrative, told mostly through the eyes of two children of the American ruling class, K.C. Stites and Everly Letterer, who see the inherent racism (though they don't yet know that's what it is) in their daily lives and the foreshadowing of a revolution that their parents cannot—or will not—acknowledge. Adding to the chorus are a burlesque dancer in Havana mysteriously connected to the revolution, a French arms dealer, and even the Castro brothers make a cameo.
The book truly comes to life as narrated by Lloyd James, a veteran of more than 400 audiobooks. James uses his even, soothing baritone to create a sense of momentum and suspense—no small feat in a novel written mostly in third person description, with bits of dialogue few and far between. Pauses, both subtle and pronounced, accomplish the significance. "He liked the diaphanous allure of fishnets. They were"—pause—"an enticement in the guise of a barrier," he reads during the first meeting of the arms dealer and the burlesque dancer. When there is dialogue, James alters his tone, making clear what the author intends that character to represent (strength, stupidity, tragedy). With many characters narrating and few ways to distinguish them through dialogue, Telex can be a bit challenging to follow, but for those who do, there's a real pay-off: The colorful imagery and masterful analogies Kushner sprinkles liberally throughout her tale recreate a historical time with a love and understanding, for both sides, rarely seen. —Kelly Marages
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Publisher's Summary

Rachel Kushner's mother grew up in Cuba in the 1950s, in the United Fruit Company enclave where Telex from Cuba takes place. Calling on a rich trove of family letters, photos, meticulously kept journals, and historical research, Kushner sets free her brilliant imagination in this profoundly resonant story of a world that was paradise for a time and for a few. For half a century, Americans controlled Cuba's sugar and nickel operations---the country's two most lucrative exports. Between the United Fruit Company's 300,000-acre plantation and the nearby Nicaro nickel mines, Americans tended their own fiefdom in Cuba's Oriente Province. Everly Lederer and K. C. Stites come of age in this world. Each has a keen eye for the indulgences and betrayals of the grown-ups around them. Meanwhile, in faraway Havana, a cabaret dancer and a French agitator with a shameful past become enmeshed in the brewing political underground. When Fidel and Raúl Castro lead a revolt from the mountains just above the Americans' privileged enclave, torching sugarcane fields and recruiting rebels, K. C. and Everly begin to discover the complexities of class and race and the barely disguised brutality that keeps the colony humming. If their parents seem blissfully untouched by the forces of history, the children hear the whispers of what's to come, as Kushner deftly merges the rural and urban dramas.
At the time, urgent news was conveyed by telex. Kushner's first novel is a tour de force, haunting and compelling, with the urgency of a telex from a forgotten time and place.
©2008 Rachel Kushner (P)2008 Tantor
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Critic Reviews

"A riveting drama.... Kushner's tale, passionately told and intensively researched, couldn't have come at a more opportune time." ( Publishers Weekly)
"Gorgeously written.... An imaginative work that brings Cuban-American history to life." ( Kirkus Reviews)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Magin La Grave on 11-26-08

Nostalgic and great history

A nostalgic introspectic tale of a young american living in the great time of Cubas revolution. Credible characters with a social raw truth of the era. Very well delivered.

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33 of 36 people found this review helpful

2 out of 5 stars
By Joel on 05-09-09

Not as good as I'd hoped

Telex from Cuba is set in pre-revolutionary Cuba, which attracted me to the book right away. I find Cuban culture and history fascinating and I therefore had high hopes for Telex. However, I was disappointed.

Kushner's characters are purported to be the main draw to this novel, but I found them to be generally uninteresting with the exception of the Stites. The historical events are barely commented on at all and what we're left with is a very slow-moving book. For every few lines of actual plot advancement, we're subjected to pages of the characters' thoughts. Some might enjoy this style, but I found that it made the book interminable. In fact, there were multiple times near the end when I found myself thinking that the book was over but being disappointed to discover that it went on.

The narrator that was chosen is dull and somewhat monotone. Seeing as this book is set in Cuba, I would have thought that someone who had a basic ability to pronounce Spanish words would have been selected, but in this I was disappointed. He butchers the Spanish throughout the novel, whether the words were those of the Americanos or of the Cubans.

In fact, the narrator was responsible for the most disappointing part of the novel: the climax. Just as Fidel ends his revolutionary speech, the crowd erupts in "Viva Castro! Viva la revolucion!" However, in delivering this dramatic moment, the narrator in all honesty sounded like a lisping Scooby Doo. It was uninspiring to say the least.

I considered rating this book one star for the fact that Kushner took the liberty to involve Fidel in a homosexual episode. However, for the parts that involved the Stites, which were genuinely compelling, I gave it two instead.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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