Persona Non Grata: A Memoir of Disenchantment with the Cuban Revolution

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In 1970 Jorge Edwards was sent by Chilean President Allende as his country's first envoy to break the diplomatic blockade that had sealed off Cuba for over a decade. His arrival coincided with the turning point of the Revolution, when Castro began to repress the very intellectuals he had once courted. A gifted writer, a diplomat, a socialist, an outsider, Edwards has a unique perspective on this crucial moment in history, which has determined Cuba's fate. As Jose Donoso has written, "Persona Non Grata reveals the...
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Overview

In 1970 Jorge Edwards was sent by Chilean President Allende as his country's first envoy to break the diplomatic blockade that had sealed off Cuba for over a decade. His arrival coincided with the turning point of the Revolution, when Castro began to repress the very intellectuals he had once courted. A gifted writer, a diplomat, a socialist, an outsider, Edwards has a unique perspective on this crucial moment in history, which has determined Cuba's fate. As Jose Donoso has written, "Persona Non Grata reveals the essence of Castro's Cuba and Allende's Chile and offers a different view of what it means to be Latin American." In Kafkaesque detail, Edwards records the four explosive months he spent in Havana trying to open a Chilean embassy and his disenchantment with the Revolution. His stay culminated in the arrest of his friend Heberto Padilla - the first imprisonment of a well-known writer by the regime - for giving Edwards a "negative view of the Revolution." In a menacing midnight political debate with Edwards immediately after Padilla's arrest, Castro argued that in the new phase of the Revolution, the bourgeois writers would no longer have "anything to do in Cuba." Castro accused Edwards of "conduct hostile to the Revolution" and declared him "persona non grata." In this haunting memoir that reads like a thriller, Edwards brilliantly portrays the inner workings of the dictatorship. He recounts how the ubiquitous secret police and their fondness for listening devices hidden in lamps, mirrors, and air conditioners brought Edwards, Padilla, and Laurita Allende (the president's sister) close to nervous breakdowns. Throughout Edwards gives surreal tales of Castro's madness. With biting irony, he describes a comic tour of a model dairy, where Castro, Edwards, and the guests tasted milk as if it were vintage wine, with Castro insisting that "We are going to achieve a Camembert better than France's," despite the rationing of milk and cheese throughout the island.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This mordant, ironic memoir by Chilean diplomat/novelist Edwards was the first critical evaluation of Cuba by a left-wing Latin American intellectual and caused a scandal among Western Leftists when it appeared in 1973. American publishers optioned the book but ``ended up opting out,'' explains Edwards. Then a Chilean publisher published it here, but the enterprise floundered and the book ``never even reached the bookstores.'' Appointed by the Allende government in 1970, Edwards was Chile's first diplomatic representative to Cuba. Though he spent just three and a half months on the island, he became aware of both an increased repression of intellectuals and also of the growing failure of the moral incentives of socialism. His meetings with Castro were not reassuring. While Edwards's account of kibitzing with the Cuban leader on a golf course is amusing, their final session--beginning just before midnight and lasting three hours and 20 minutes on the eve of Edwards's departure--is disturbing. Castro declared him ``a person hostile to the Cuban Revolution'' and dismissed ``bourgeois intellectuals'' saying, ``I'd a thousand times rather Allende had sent us a miner than a writer.'' (Aug.)
Library Journal
Chilean lawyer, diplomat, author, intellectual, critic of Castro and Pinochet, and friend of Neruda, Edwards achieved lasting fame when this memoir first appeared in Spanish in 1973. He was one of the first Latin American intellectuals to publicly criticize the Castro regime in Cuba. His powerfully written book describes a four-month residence in Havana in late 1971 and early 1972, when he was the first Chilean diplomat appointed to Cuba by the Salvador Allende administration. Edwards recounts late-night audiences with Castro, meetings with disillusioned Cuban intellectuals, and encounters with the secret police. He paints an uncomplimentary portrait of Castro as an aging, tired revolutionary whose attempts to reform the Cuban economy seemed destined to fail. Recommended for most collections.-- Brian E. Coutts, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green
Brad Hooper
The first U.S. edition of what's become a classic book in Latin American letters. In December 1970 Chilean writer-diplomat Edwards was sent as his country's charge d'affaires to Havana, Cuba, to reopen Chile's embassy after reestablishment of normal diplomatic relations between the two nations (nearly every Latin American nation broke with Castro in the early 1960s). His assignment was to prepare the way for the arrival of the fully invested Chilean ambassador at a later date. Along with most of his fellow Latin American writers, Edwards had maintained a liberal attitude toward the Castro regime, believing the Cuban revolution a good thing. But during Edwards' three-and-a-half-month tenure in Havana, his enthusiasm turned into a rude awakening; Castro had not turned the Cuban economy around as promised, and, more, was repressing free thought--anathema to any writer, no matter how leftist. Edwards' book chronicles not only his day-to-day activities as a foreign diplomat in shabby Havana but also his mental alienation from what was transpiring there. Must reading for any student of Latin American history.
Kirkus Reviews
A genuine literary treasure from Latin America's recent past, which—though originally published in 1973 in Spain and elsewhere—is just now available in a gracefully translated US edition, with a laudatory preface by Octavio Paz. Posted to Cuba as an interim envoy in late 1970 when Chile's Salvador Allende defied the OAS and resumed formal relations with Cuba, novelist/short-story writer Edwards spent nearly four months representing Chile at what proved to be a critical juncture in Cuba's rule by Fidel Castro. While a committed man of the left, the author quickly concluded that Cuba's revolution was not the socialist idyll accepted by his fellow Chilean intellectuals, and he began to fear for the future of his homeland as well. Beset by obtrusive minders, Edwards (who on his first night in Cuba had talked and drunk with Fidel into the wee hours) almost immediately incurred his host's wrath by establishing contact with some of the regime's most implacably critical dissidents, notably poet Heberto Padilla (subsequently imprisoned on charges of treason). More the journal of an uncommonly decent idealist than an aggrieved dialectician's plaint, the author's wide-ranging recollections of his Cuban sojourn illuminate rather than censure or damn the horrors of dictatorships. Although Edwards did not personally witness atrocities, his recall of encounters with Castro aboard a Chilean training ship and at official functions conveys the message of menace with greater force than any catalogue of brutalities. The same holds true for the subtly threatening atmosphere that made Havana's diplomatic community a hotbed of paranoia. When his tour was over, Edwards moved on to Paris, where, asan aide to ambassador Pablo Neruda, he gained further perspective on abortive revolution in Chile, as well as in Cuba. A cultivated humanist's marvelously readable memoir of revolution's hard realities, which 20 years later has appeal for readers of almost any political persuasion.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557785763
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/1/1993
  • Edition description: 1st American ed

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