Review: Cuba, My Revolution

Image from Vertigo/DC Comics
Image from Vertigo/DC Comics

It seems crazy that I somehow didn’t know there was a graphic novel about Cuba, but alas, that was the case until I saw The Mary Sue’s books section of their fantastic gift guide.  Written by Inverna Lockpez, illustrated by Dean Haspiel, and colored by José Villarrubia, Cuba, My Revolution tells Lockpez’s life story via Sonya, an aspiring artist who is 17 when the story starts on New Year’s Eve in 1958.

After Fidel takes the country that night, her world changes quickly.  She decides to put her love of art on

hold in order to become a doctor, following in her father’s footsteps and fulfilling a pressing need after so many medical professionals jumped ship.  We follow along as she trains with limited equipment, is relied upon too heavily due to personnel shortages, and eventually goes to the front lines of Playa Girón, known

in the US as the Bay of Pigs Invasion.  From there her life takes a turn for the dark and surreal, and it becomes harder for Sonya to see the good in the Revolution, even as she tries to hold on to that hope.  As scarcity becomes more common, private property is seized, behavior is monitored, and it gets harder to leave the island, Sonya tries to reconcile what she and others fought for with the reality of what eventually becomes a communist (or “Marxist-Leninst”) state.  There’s also an interesting look at how both the medical professions an the art world of Cuba evolved in the early days.

The visual aspect of this book is stunning, and the use of panels, background illustrations and occasional surreal or dream elements that emerge over the two demonstrate the many layers of the story, as well as some elements of foreshadowing and occasionally a way of showing the reader what is real and what is a trauma-induced delusion. If graphic novels are not normally your fare, I think  this is a great introduction to the medium.  There are no elements of cartoonishness, superheroes, or the supernatural, as some may associate with comic books and graphic novels.  Instead, the illustrations give a flavor of one of the world’s most visually captivating places.  For a culture (and the story of a person) that so heavily emphasizes visual artistic expression, the medium could only be more perfect if it came with a soundtrack.

This book is a great introduction for those who know very little of Cuba’s history, with lots of easter eggs for those more familiar, like visual references to the Orichas (beyond the very basic amount that is explained for story purposes), a sub-plot involving Célia Sanchez, and a joke that the guerilleros are a popular subject for artwork–“even Camilo.”  There are also small references to bigger topics, like the ending of prostitution (and whether that phrase deserves scare quotes), the freedom to go to the beach, and the misogyny and materialism of the high society of 1950s Havana.

Image from Vertigo/DC Comics
Image from Vertigo/DC Comics

As with all books about Cuba from a personal perspective (and even some that are “academic”) it is an intense story that shows one of the many sides of Cuba’s history.  It’s important to remember that it covers less than a decade within Cuba’s history, and refrains completely from commenting on Cuba’s trajectory since the story’s close.  I recommend that anyone interested in Cuba read as many books from as many different perspectives as they can in order to get the full picture.  That being said, there are so few English-language accounts of what life was like in the years immediately after Fidel came charging down from the Sierra Maestra, as well as how the Revolution was framed and perceived in 1959, and how that changed, making Cuba, My Revolution truly valuable testimony about a defining chain of events from the 20th century.

Perhaps the most intense aspect of this story is that one can clearly feel the pull between, on the one side, Sonia’s ideals and hope for what Fidel can do for her country’s future, and on the other side, the rumors she hears and the poverty, brutality, upheaval, and incompetence that grow harder to ignore.  If she didn’t believe in change and in removing Batista, her account wouldn’t be as powerful.  Unfortunately, so many who criticize Castro’s regime only compare it to a selective version of the United States, as opposed to the reality in Cuba in the decades leading up to the revolution, or even a more accurate portrayal of the US, including our rates of poverty, literacy, high school graduation, HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and of course the civil and human rights violations perpetrated by our government.  Instead, Lockpez and Haspiel contextualize the story well with a brief introduction of Batista’s Cuba, a history lesson that tends to be missing from most American curricula on Cuba.

If you are looking to learn more about the early years of the Cuban Revolution, are interested in seeing what a graphic novel has to offer from a storytelling perspective, or just want to become lost inside of the true story of one young woman’s struggle to reconcile her ideals with reality, then I emphatically recommend this book for you.

If you enjoy the content of this blog, please consider voting for me to win a travel blogging trip to India.

Help Me Win a Sponsored Trip to Kerala, India!

Help Me Win a Sponsored Trip to Kerala, India!

I am currently in the running to win a sponsored trip to Kerala, India.  The top 25 travel bloggers with the most votes by January 10 will get to go on a two week trip via coach bus from Kasaragod in the north to Trivandrum in the south of one of India’s most interesting states, often known as God’s Own Country.  At the end of the trip is a Meet Up of the winning bloggers and local writers, which sounds like an amazing way to learn about India from a local perspective and make great new connections.  The trip is sponsored by Kerala Travel, so I’m sure the winners will get to see the absolute best the region has to offer.  Another exciting aspect is that the Travel Bureau will be taking input from the winners when designing the itinerary.  If I’m lucky enough to be one of the winners, I’ll be looking for tips from all my readers who have been to India.

If I win, you’ll be getting a heck of a lot more blog posts, photos, tweets, Facebook updates and instagram updates all about my travels.  I have never been to India and it has always been on my list, so this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Of course, my opinions will all be my own, (like anyone ever thought I could resist the urge to speak my mind!)  If I win, I want to hook up with the local chapter of Hollaback! to learn more about their street harassment reality, and how the atmosphere has changed in the wake of several high profile sexual assaults.  I would also love to learn more about the languages and religions of India, as well as its long history, and what makes Kerala different from the other Indian states.

If you have a minute, please vote for me here by logging in with your facebook account.  Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be a way to vote without facebook.  Thanks so much for your support, and I hope I’m in the top 25!

web badge-01