El difunto Fidel
Author: Teresa Dovalpage
Review by Mickey Garrote
The laughable truth is the essence of Teresa Dovalpage’s novel El difunto Fidel (“The Late Fidel”). Could this be this author’s most comic work yet? The truth is that the story will keep you laughing all the way through. And the story offers a truthful picture of a dysfunctional family of Cuban exiles in Miami. Are there any exile families that aren’t dysfunctional?
The novel, occasionally bilingual, occasionally theatrical, but always filled with humour, deals with a story rarely told, touching on some points close to the heart of those residents of southern Florida who refer to themselves as exiles. “Miami has more castes than India,” remarks the protagonist of the book, which weighs in at just 90 pages… and how refreshing it is to read some 90 pages written by a Cuban on Cuban themes, on exile, and yet which hardly – if ever – mentions politics. This alone should be enough to make the book worth reading.
But El difunto Fidel… how could a novel with a title like this not be political? Indeed, the title appears to allude to Cuba’s current political reality, but this is not the reality it deals with. It is about the life and death of Fidel Carballo, 49 years old, married with two children and a mistress – his secretary, of course. Fidel in Cuba is Philip in Miami, a leader back on the island and now a businessman in exile. Head of a household and manager of a real estate agency, destiny has compelled him to change his name and his colour in accordance with his new circumstances.
In a twist of fate, the comfortable existence of his loved ones, and his own, is suddenly threatened. The global economic crisis is knocking at his door; the houses aren’t selling and the cheques are bouncing. How can he keep up the extravagant lifestyle of his wife, who since she left Cuba has had no idea what it means to work, who lives in a mansion with a swimming pool, drives a Lexus, and squanders money on her cat “Fluff”, whose name she mispronounces as “Flo?” How can he keep supporting his feminist daughter, the mother of his granddaughter, who was born by means of artificial insemination? And what about the future of his gay son, who has just come out of the closet? And what will happen to his secretary, his office lover? What will he do about all the overdue wages he owes her, which he has no way of being able to pay? Could a fatal accident that will precipitate a payout on an insurance policy be his only way out?
Eight sessions with a Dominican medium, the owner of a garden supplies store located near the Versailles Restaurant in Miami, unravel this drama with its background of the American dream, assimilation and alienation.
El difunto Fidel would be a harsh story indeed… if it weren’t so funny.
Translated by Martin Boyd
The novel El difunto Fidel is currently only available in Spanish. Cuban author Teresa Dovalpage maintains a blog in English, A Cuban Writer’s Blog.