Book Notes: Carlos Alberto Montaner’s Autobiography

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a Cuban writer and dissident. He was 16 when the dictatorship of Fidel Castro imprisoned him. Montaner escaped from prison and eventually managed to leave Cuba. His autobiography titled Sin it más lejos narrates six decades of efforts on the part of Montaner and other Cuban intellectuals in exile to bring democracy to Cuba.

Montaner always believed in the possibility of a peaceful democratic transformation of Cuba. But he hasn’t been to Cuba since 1959 and doesn’t know how far gone it is. I remember seeing in Havana groups of young healthy men sitting on the porches of crumbling houses and drinking rum at noon. They sat amidst piles of fetid garbage but it never occurred to them to clean it up. The difference between them and an extremely energetic, resourceful and active – even as he nears the age of 80 – Montaner is the best illustration of how socialism (and Cuba is a socialist, not a Communist country) sucks people dry and leaves empty, indifferent shells.

The book offers some fascinating details about the dictatorship that I never knew. Montaner also has a lot of stories about Hispanic writers and politicians and how they acted in connection with the Cuban tragedy.

Montaner is a very interesting person. He got married at 16 and lived his whole life with the same woman. Sixty years later, he still writes about her with love and admiration. This is unusual because male authors often erase their wives from autobiographies altogether. VS Naipaul is an example of such writing. I was stunned to discover that he spent his lonely summer in England that he described so beautifully in a book with a wife who isn’t mentioned once.

Poor, poor Cuba. Such a great country so tragically destroyed. And so uselessly, too, because nobody learned anything.

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