Caracol Beach


Eliseo Alberto's award-winning Caracol Beach combines the passionate imagination of magic realism with the plotting of a thriller (and a modicum of farce). The result is a literary tour de force.

Beto Milanes, the night watchman at a graveyard in the Florida resort town of Caracol Beach, is a guilt-ridden Cuban war veteran. Tormented by memories and hallucinations, he yearns to die but is unable to take his own life. Instead, he decides to force someone-anyone-to kill him. That ...

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Eliseo Alberto's award-winning Caracol Beach combines the passionate imagination of magic realism with the plotting of a thriller (and a modicum of farce). The result is a literary tour de force.

Beto Milanes, the night watchman at a graveyard in the Florida resort town of Caracol Beach, is a guilt-ridden Cuban war veteran. Tormented by memories and hallucinations, he yearns to die but is unable to take his own life. Instead, he decides to force someone-anyone-to kill him. That decision sets in motion a night of violence that draws an odd assortment of characters into Beto's orbit. In scenes that range from the jungles of Angola to a seedy Florida bar, Alberto explores war, madness, exile, and the redemptive power of love.

Translated by Edith Grossman.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A spectacular read... Storytelling magic."
--The Miami Herald

"Magic realism is in flower, but beneath its extravagant exaggerations lie serious observations about human nature."
--The New York Times Book Review

"[B]rilliant... a modern tragedy where madness goes hand in hand with the absurd."
--El Pais

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
Translated from the Spanish, this "enjoyable," kaleidoscopic novel features madness, love, death, and the collision of strangers' lives one fateful night in a Florida resort town. "A fair attempt at Hispanic magic realism with some very good passages, but overall a disappointment." "Stick with the master of the genre, Gabriel Garcia Marquez."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A lifetime of activity is crammed into one June night in 1994 in exiled Cuban writer Alberto's hallucinogenic second novel, and first available in English, set around the small Florida resort community of Caracol Beach. Alberto (Beto) Milan s, the town's auto salvage yard night watchman and a Cuban veteran of the 1976 Angolan guerrilla war, suffers from a postcombat disorder. Ever since he stumbled away from a jungle ambush that wiped out the rest of his squad, Beto has believed he is being hunted down by a winged Bengal tiger. The American military advisers and war correspondents who find him wandering about deliriously days after the ambush arrange for his migration to the U.S., and for 18 years he has lived in Caracol Beach. He dreams constantly of killing himself to escape his hallucinatory nemesis and the guilt he feels for surviving, but he is unable to initiate the act. In a desperate attempt to put an end to his misery, he decides to take a hostage in hopes that her rescuers will shoot him. His unwilling conscript in this death wish is Laura Fontanet, a half-Cuban cheerleader celebrating her high school graduation. Laura's kidnapping draws in Beto's one-time savior, the local retirement-bound Puerto Rican constable Sam Ramos, who years before helped rescue Beto in Angola, and also the two rivals for Laura's affections, the high school's top jock and its number one egghead--as well as a varied supporting cast that includes Ramos's transvestite son, his son's Armenian lover, a rookie deputy and many others. Alberto, who has adapted Garc a Marquez's short stories for film, shows Marquez's influence in lyrical flights of prose and foretold deaths woven into the complex plot. But his cultural allusions to santer a saints and baseball, plus and the manic video-montage pace of the tale, make this compelling, touching and sweetly whimsical novel wholly his own, a triumph of storytelling. (May) FYI: Alberto won Spain's Alfaguara Prize for fiction and co-wrote the screenplay for the film Guantanamera. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Beto Milanes, a Cuban veteran of the Angolan War who survived an ambush that wiped out his entire platoon, is plagued by visions of pouncing tigers. With a host of strangers, he contrives to bring about his own death in a shootout at an auto salvage yard in a Florida resort town. Sam Ramos, the aging, pizza-gorging police chief, has taken a liking to the luckless madman and wants to save him. But though Ramos can sympathize with the delusions of a lunatic who sees tigers in every tree, he can't tolerate the cross-dressing homosexuality of his son Nelson, a.k.a. Mandy. Mandy's lover is the Armenian Tigran the Terrible--so called because he has the balls to show the world that he loves Mandy. Mandy and Tigran are present at the salvage-yard shootout but are miraculously spared, and as Mandy and his father reconcile, Beto watches his soul mount the fantasy tiger and undertake its final journey. This is phantasmagorical fiction at its most imaginative, with a cast of characters (including several colorful real-women prostitutes for good measure) extensive enough to justify an appendix and action enough for a chronology of events courteously supplied for the reader's convenience by Sam Ramos. The author, a native Cuban now residing in Mexico City, is the winner of Spain's prestigious Alfaguara Prize and is an acclaimed poet and author of books for children. Recommended for most collections.--Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
James Polk
...the bleakness quickly veers off toward the bizarre when, shortly after its opening, Caracol Beach turns comic, and the soldier's efforts to have himself eradicated become farcical. This is not, however, merely dark comedy about post-traumatic stress disorder; rather, it is farce with a point, much like the early stories of Gabriel García Márquez. Here too magic realism is in flower, but beneath its extravagant exaggerations lie serious observations about human nature.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Arbitrary whimsy and narrative fireworks are the order of two tense days in June in a hitherto sleepy Florida resort (the title town)—in this heavy-breathing 1998 novel by Cuban journalist and poet Alberto. It goes sort of like this. "Beto" Milanes, a Cuban combat soldier who served during the war in Angola ("a psychopath who talked endlessly about Bengal tigers, African leopards, blowflies in the air and military ambushes . . . ," among other things), and who has tried and failed to kill himself, takes three college kids prisoner and forces them at gunpoint to commit violent acts of vandalism, preparatory to offing him. Constable Sam Ramos, likewise a veteran of multiple military campaigns (and linked, as we learn, to Milanes), must deal with these annoyances as well as his gay transvestite son Nelson's unruly misbehavior at the Bastille bar and relationship with his Armenian lover Tigran Androsian (reputedly "afraid of chickens": don't even ask). A hot-blooded hooker and a tireless neighborhood busybody make Sam's life even more miserable. If that weren't enough already, flashbacks to the three students' relationships at their Manhattan college reveal further sexual and other behavioral particulars and permutations—as do Beto's hallucinatory identity crisis and deranged memories of his roundheeled mother, "Caterina the Great." In case we've missed anything, Alberto thoughtfully provides a concluding Appendix that gives us more information about his 30 or so significant characters, and a Chronology of "The Facts in the Case" compiled by the exhausted Constable Ramos. This seems tantamount to admitting that many readerswillfinish the book still wondering exactly what's going on. Whether or not these characters grip us, we certainly understand their phlegmatic fatalism, encapsulated in the recurring sentence "God must know why the hell he does what he does." Presumably, Alberto does too, but you'd never know it from Caracol Beach.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375705069
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/13/2001
  • Series: Vintage International Series
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.01 (h) x 0.64 (d)

Meet the Author

Eliseo Alberto is a poet, journalist, and filmmaker. He lives in Mexico City.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One
Clemency isn't a word that is used very often. On the previous night the soldier had dreamed again about the Bengal tiger, and he woke with a start, the taste of rotting meat in his mouth. He spat blood. His nerves had destroyed his gums, and no matter how much he rinsed his mouth with bicarbonate of soda, and even though he drank a thousand cups of coffee and smoked a thousand unfiltered Camels, the acid of the infection kept draining, drop by drop. He dressed under the blanket. Ever since his cavalry during the war in Ibond? de Ak?, eighteen years earlier, he had taken the precaution of sleeping with his boots on, a habit that eventually devastated his feet with raging fungus infections. He tried to take refuge in a happy memory and escape the trap that way. He failed. Through narrowed eyes he saw the tiger come in. A tiger. The tiger. That one. The yellow one. From Bengal. Its presence took his breath away. It would appear without warning in a derangement of dreams and then give him no peace. Before he caught sight of it under the table, toying with a rat from the garbage dump, he had smelled its rank poppy-cream scent, like a whore's perfume floating in the dawn air, and he woke in anguish. He heard the distant crowing of early morning roosters, the motors of cars driving along the highway, the sound of an ocean he knew was too far away, but only when he saw a ring of seven blowflies resting on the ceiling lightbulb did a snapping twig tell him the devil was near. The flies were startled and stirred the air with the windmill vanes of their wings. Each time he had the nightmare the compass of his mind switched poles and led him down blind alleys. The tiger was slavering. It was thirsty. Or maybe hungry. The rat wasn't enough. It wanted another one. It wanted him.
"Virgin of Regla! In the name of all you hold dear, tell it to go away! Let there be Light and Progress for you," he pleaded. His prayer crashed into the hills. The echo rebounded through the swirling mist.
Since taking the job as night watchman at the auto salvage yard in Caracol Beach, he had lived in a trailer that had once been a circus wagon. The name could still be read in an arc of showy calligraphy that was faded and weathered: five star show. traveling rodeo. performers and gypsy fortunetellers. trained animals. private dressing-rooms. The sides were painted with images of lions, bearded ladies, and trapeze artists. The interior of the car was equipped with everything needed to make it a habitable prison: the cot attached with hinges to the back wall, a two-burner hot plate to cook on, and a tiny bathroom that barely held one person but had the functional design of a sleeping compartment on a train, with all the fixtures in easy reach -- sitting on the toilet you could comfortably turn the tap and take a shower without having to get up. The string of red, blue, and yellow lights that outlined the trailer on all four sides was the one luxury the solitary tenant allowed himself to keep in perfect working order. He liked to turn on the lighting system and see his tin-plate vessel from the highway, shining in the middle of that graveyard for demolished cars.
When he went outside, dazed by the echoes of his dream, the tiger was pacing the roof of the trailer. In the light of dawn he noticed the remarkable fact that the animal had wings harmoniously joined to its body. Wings of a swan or an angel. Two fans of white, silky, well-groomed feathers. It had come from a place where it had been raining because drops of water glistened like pellets of mercury on the edges of its feathers. It was something to see. The tiger sprang with ease from the roof to the clouds, and from cloud to cloud, treading lightly through the field of cumulus, and from there, not moving its wings, dropped in a pronounced curve into the auto salvage yard and was lost from view among the heaps of twisted metal. A beautiful sight. The soldier lit a cigarette and the tobacco tasted like cyanide. "Strike, Strike Two! Where are you, you son of a bitch?" he shouted.
Strike Two appeared at the window of the Oldsmobile. The game of hide-and-seek was repeated with theatrical punctuality. First he showed his pointed ears, then his eyes, his snout, his tongue, his neck, until half his body was visible and he publicly assumed the pose of a great mastiff. He was a puppy. A stray. A troublemaker. He had come to the yard last Christmas and for several days chose to sleep outdoors, under the cars. The soldier did not do much to get close to him, either. They felt a mutual distrust. Sometimes the puppy barked when a customer came in, taking on the sentinel's role that no one had assigned him. He spent his time chasing unreachable butterflies along the alleyways of the graveyard, or biting his own tail in comical whirlwinds. He drank his water from puddles. Neither of them relented. They were stubborn. Very stubborn. But on the night of December 31 the animal came into the trailer and jumped at the soldier's legs just as he was about to slit his veins with a bayonet blade. The dog's incursion prevented his suicide. The soldier gave him a name that reminded him of his days as a baseball player: Strike Two. The soldier was Strike One. On New Year's Day the dog began to sleep in the Oldsmobile, a monstrosity built from parts and pieces of other vehicles, like a mechanical Frankenstein. Every morning the man and his dog repeated the game of hide-and-seek. The man had to pretend he was looking for him in the yard. "Strike, Strike Two! Where are you, you son of a bitch?" After three or four shouts the puppy, with studied complicity, would begin to show his ears, eyes, snout, tongue, and neck. But on that rainy Saturday the soldier greeted him with a kick. Strike crossed the graveyard with his belly to the ground and reached the highway, determined to leave. He stopped on the shoulder. He was panting. He began to look around. Droves of carnivorous trucks, packs of ravening cars, herds of wild buses, stampedes of ferocious vehicles raced along the asphalt track. Strike went back to the graveyard and dropped onto the steps of the trailer. In the human jungle some roads are impassable.

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