I first became interested in the tumultuous history of the small island of Cuba when I took a Caribbean politics course in college. It fascinated me that an island which is so geographically close to the United States could be so very different in its political system. 33 Revolutions captures life under the Castro regime from the point-of-view of an ordinary citizen who has become disillusioned from promises of change and is trying to scratch out a bare existence.
This book is more of an ode to a an island that has been betrayed by promises of revolution than a novella. In order to capture the atmosphere is his life the author’s constant refrain throughout the writing is “like a scratched record.” His monotonous job is like a scratched record; the small and nondescript apartment he lives in alone is like a scratched record; the monotonous routine of his office where he performs minimal tasks for a government agency is like a scratched record. Guevara’s prose is lyrical and captures the frustration of citizens like this unnamed author who feel stuck and trapped:
The whole country is a scratched record (everything repeats itself: every day is a repetition of the day before, every week, month, year; and from repetition to repetitions, the sound deteriorates until all that is left is a vague, unrecognizable recollection of the original recording—the music disappears, to be replaced by an incomprehensible, gravelly murmur.)
The narrator tells us about the beginnings of the revolution in Cuba and as a result of which upheavel his well-bred mother and his ignorant peasant of a father were able to connect:
They met—or rather, bumped into each other— at one of those huge meetings where anger and fervor fused, and further encounters in various associations and assemblies ended up giving rise to an awareness that they were equal, that they had the same dreams, were part of a project that included them and made demands on them equally.
The narrator spends the rest of the novella explaining the countless ways in which this revolution failed its people and took away any spark of fervor that they once had to make their lives better. The narrator himself is brought up fully indoctrinated into the ideals of the revolution and the regime. He was the model citizen until one day when he started reading and a whole new world, one outside of Cuban Communism, opened up to him.
One of the most interesting and enlightening descriptions in the book is that of Cuban citizens using makeshift rafts and boats to try and escape the Communist regime. The author comments that boats full of people used to attempt to escape under the clandestine cover of night, but now people are brazen and openly board their skiffs in public during the day. It is an incident with a large group of young people who try to hijack a government boat in the harbor that serves as the narrator’s breaking point. He decides he can’t take the scratching of that broken record any longer and declares, “I’m not going to suppress anybody.” And with these simple words, he declares his own minor revolution and never looks back.
About the Author:
Canek Sanchez Guevara, grandson of Che Guevara, left Cuba for Mexico in 1996. He worked for many of Mexico’s most important newspapers as a columnist and correspondent, and he wrote a regular newspaper column called “Motorcycleless Diaries.” He was a measured and informed critic of the Castro regime. He died in January 2015 at the age of forty.