A figure from Greek mythology is reborn in the Caribbean in this novel by the award-winning author of The Black Cathedral (2020).
In 1975, Cuba sent troops to support the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola in that country’s civil war. Over the next decade and a half, more than 300,000 Cubans would participate in this proxy war between Soviet-style communism and Western powers led by the United States. This is the historical backdrop for Gala’s tale of a boy from the port city of Cienfuegos who believes that he is the reincarnation of Cassandra, the priestess of Apollo “forever condemned to know the future and never be believed.” Rauli’s sense that he is in the wrong time and place is exacerbated by the fact that he is a slight, fair, bookish boy who likes to wear dresses in a culture that prizes machismo. His difference will make him a target—for other kids, for his fellow soldiers, for the captain who brutally abuses him—but it also gives meaning to a life that he knows will be short. Because he has Cassandra’s curse, he knows that he will die in Angola at 19. Before he dies, though, he will converse with Greek gods and African orishas and be accompanied by a chorus of Erinyes that gives his story the shape of classical tragedy. Fate hangs over this novel. Rauli cannot escape his doom any more than the nymph Thetis can protect her son, Achilles, by dressing him as a girl. Of course, the clothes that are meant to disguise Achilles’ true nature reveal Rauli’s, but it’s a truth that he is compelled to keep hidden. The Cuban conscript is not a great warrior, and his grave will be an unmarked patch of jungle, but—unlike the hero of the Iliad—Rauli has the power to give voice to his own story.
A haunting meditation on identity and violence.