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Silent Wing

Silent Wing

by Jose Raul Raul Bernardo

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Vividly portraying an era of honor and almost mystical innocence, yet intricately interwoven with political intrigue and turmoil, José Raúl Bernardo weaves a rich historical tapestry. Based on the life of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, Bernardo’s novel takes the reader on an intimate tour of a Latin America few have encountered, a kaleidoscopic


Vividly portraying an era of honor and almost mystical innocence, yet intricately interwoven with political intrigue and turmoil, José Raúl Bernardo weaves a rich historical tapestry. Based on the life of Cuban poet and revolutionary hero José Martí, Bernardo’s novel takes the reader on an intimate tour of a Latin America few have encountered, a kaleidoscopic collision of rich cultures on the brink of the twentieth century. Julián, a charismatic Cuban poet possessed with a passionate love of freedom, is exiled from his homeland for demonstrating in favor of his country’s independence from the tyrannical hold of Spain. He lands in Mexico City, where he proposes marriage to Lucía, the spinster daughter of a Cuban lawyer exiled in that city. Knowing that the wedding must wait until he establishes himself professionally, Julián goes to Guatemala City, where a teaching job awaits and where Lucía is to follow him in time. What Julián has not reckoned on is that in Guatemala he will meet and fall madly in love with Sol, daughter of that country’s great liberator, Don Manuel.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Following on the heels of last year's much praised The Secret of the Bulls, Bernardo returns to colonial Cuba in a disappointing, fictionalized version of the life of Jos Mart, here depicted as the poet and revolutionary Julin. Just before setting out to seek his fortune as a writer, teacher and activist in Guatemala, idealistic Julin proposes marriage to Luca, a frivolous Cuban woman who desires a trousseau more than political freedom for her country. A man of his word, Julin feels he must honor his vow even after he meets the girl of his dreams in Guatemala; the woman who shares his passion for freedom is clearly the counterpart to Mart's "Nia de Guatemala." The choice to portray Mart's life as fiction seems a lamentable error, since the patriot's real life was more dramatic and eventful than this conventional historical novel conveys. And Bernardo's attempt to sketch a 19th-century society bound by manners, la James or Wharton, but simultaneously stressed by the tumultuous and violent political situation, is thwarted by a text that reads like a screenplay filled out with stage directions. This rushed, awkwardly written work does not do justice to the complexities of Mart's life. Readers would do better with one of many biographies dealing with the Cuban hero. Agent: Owen Laster. (July) FYI: Bernardo first fictionalized Marti's life in the libretto of his opera, The Child.
Library Journal
In his second novel, Bernardo's (The Secret of the Bulls, LJ 11/15/95) gifts as a romantic storyteller emerge again, despite a few stylistic bumps. Julin, a young Cuban political exile, poet, and schoolteacher, arrives on the shores of Guatemala with little in his pocket. He has left fiance Lucia in Mexico, with a promise to send for her later. In Guatemala, he quickly develops a reputation as an orator and firebrand, but beyond the public man, Julin finds himself desperately in love with Sol, the daughter of one of his mentors. Honor wins, and Julin marries Lucia. Years after political events have forced them to leave Guatemala, they end up in Brooklyn, where honor once again compels Julin to confess his love for Sol. Lucia flees to Cubawhere Julin cannot followand takes their son. Julin is killed in an early skirmish of what becomes the war for Cuban independence from Spain. A sentimental romance, with overtones of the life of Jos Mart, this novel appears during the centenary year of Cuban sovereignty. Purchase where Latino fiction is in demand.Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York, New York

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.75(w) x 8.77(h) x 0.91(d)

Read an Excerpt


The tired old whistle of the small steamship manages to let out a piercingly loud blast soon followed by another, then another. Julián is suddenly awakened by these raucous sounds. Startled, he opens his eyes, and from where he is, lying right on the ship's deck, he can see through a misty early morning fog what appears to be a lush tropical shore gently gliding by.

Guatemala at last? he asks himself.

Eager to take a closer look, he quickly begins to stand up, and then he has to smile at himself. Since he is a young man of just twenty-six, strong, muscular, with broad shoulders, and with a body chiseled by hard labor, he had thought that sleeping on the ship's deck -- something he has been doing for the last twelve nights -- would not be too hard on him. But, Was I wrong! he tells himself as he stretches his sore muscles. His entire body seems to be aching all over. To save money he has been sleeping a costilla pelada -- on nothing but his ribs -- on the deck of El Futuro, the small freight steamship that is bringing him from the port of Veracruz, in Mexico, to this new land, Guatemala. Having been exiled nine years from his home in Cuba, he now seems to be always on the move, constantly going from one place to the next, with no country -- and with no job -- rarely being able to afford a comfortable bunk, not even on this very inexpensive freight steamship.

He quickly unfolds the jacket to his black suit, which he had been using as a pillow, and, after he brushes it carefully and smooths out the wrinkles as best he can, he puts it on, hurries to the railing, and looks intently at the shore of this land he is about to enter,wondering what it is that makes it seem so different from the shore of his native Cuba. Certainly one sweats as much here as one sweats there, he thinks. It is still very early in the morning, and yet, the heat is already stifling, even though it is not quite the end of March. So far 1877 is turning out to be a very hot year, Julián tells himself, as he wipes his forehead with his handkerchief while his eyes focus on the pale blue mountains barely visible in the far distance, framed by the luxuriant greenery of the rain forest near the shore.

And then, all of a sudden, Julián realizes what makes this place seem so different from his own Cuba. Where are the tall slender royal palms of his native land? he asks himself as he turns his head, scanning the opulent tropical shore of Guatemala, looking for -- dreaming of -- a Cuban royal palm. And as he does, while he stretches his sore arms once again, and again massages the back of his neck, he asks himself the very same question he has been asking from the moment he set foot on another ship, a ship very much like this one, a ship that nine years ago took him away from his homeland: When will I be able to go back home?

Suddenly, the tired old steamship whistle of El Futuro lets out a second set of piercing blasts, and a bell begins clanking and clanking loudly. Responding to its urgent call, sailors appear all over the ship, as if from nowhere, scurrying around the deck, shouting orders to each other, and throwing ropes to the men on shore, who shout back at them as the steamship begins its docking operations.

Leaning against the railing of the ship's deck, his face covered with thick drops of sweat, Julián admiringly watches the ship's crew helping each other, each of them knowing exactly what to do, each of them a piece of a very complex and well-oiled machine.

One of the men rushes by Julián's side, and as the man reaches for a rope, he accidentally bumps into Julián. Julián quickly moves out of the man's way and mechanically, almost unconsciously, pats the small leather bag he hides under his vest, next to his revolver, to make sure he still has the little money he was given by Señor Fermín -- a Guatemalan man Julián had befriended in Mexico City.

Ten weeks ago, Julián decided to leave Mexico behind. Or, rather, it was decided for him. After the latest military coup d'etat in Mexico City, three and a half months ago, the members of the new conservative Mexican regime did not like at all what a young liberal Cuban writer in exile with the burning passion of individual freedom running wild through his veins was saying about them. Before things got worse, Julián's friends begged him, "Please, Julián, either quiet down or get out of Mexico." But quieting Julián down was totally out of the question. After all, his own family had not been able to quiet him down in Cuba; that was why he was in exile in Mexico City -- where Julián had barely been able to eke out a living by writing political essays for La Revista Universal, an ultraliberal literary publication. It was then that Señor Fermín suggested that Julián try his luck in Guatemala.

"I believe there's a future in Guatemala for you, Julián," Señor Fermín said. "I took the liberty of writing to a friend of mine, Professor Saavedra, about you. He is an exiled Cuban man, like you. He was teaching in New York City when the consul of Guatemala hired him and he is now the principal of the Escuela Central, the most exclusive girls school in Guatemala City." He paused as he extracted an envelope from one of the inner pockets of his impeccably tailored, elegant, silk faille frock coat. "And here's his answer," the old man added, showing Julián a letter from Professor Saavedra, in which the professor said that a full-time teaching position was open at his school for a man with the proper credentials, and that he would try his best to hold it open for as long as he could to help his fellow Cuban, Julián, get that position. But, the professor stressed, it was essential -- and in his letter Professor Saavedra underlined that word essential not once but twice -- essential that Julián got to Guatemala City as soon as he could, and definitely prior to the end of the current school year, for by that time teaching appointments for the next school year had to be proposed, approved by the minister of public instruction, signed, sealed, and completely settled.

After reading him Professor Saavedra's letter, Señor Fermín gave Julián, in addition to some money for the trip, a letter of introduction recommending Julián to the new liberal president of Guatemala, Gualterio Rubios, a former schoolmate -- and a personal friend -- of Señor Fermín. "Being in the right political circles can never hurt a young man," Señor Fermín added as he winked at Julián.

Still leaning against the ship's railing, Julián sees Yubirio, an older Cuban sailor who works on this small steamship, rush by. Effortlessly and with almost animal perfection, Yubirio, who is tall and black as ebony, and who has huge, bare, muscular arms glistening with sweat, throws a thick rope to one of the other sailors already on the shore, who grabs it and ties it to a wood post just as Yubirio begins to sing at the top of his lungs one of those bawdy Cuban songs popular at the time.

The man who doesn't know how to drink
and doesn't know how to make love,
What good is a man like that?
What good is a man like that?

Julián smiles at the way Yubirio puts an emphasis on the word Eh as he sings, creating a lilting syncopation that puts rhythm into his movements, making what he is doing seem more like a pleasant dance than the strenuous job Yubirio and all the rest of the sailors are undertaking. The power of music! Julián thinks. Leave it to a Cuban man to put rhythm to everything so he can dance through life. Julián remembers when not yet seventeen he was imprisoned in La Habana, sentenced to forced labor, and had to work

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