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Qwert and the Wedding Gown.

Born in 1931, Matias Montes Huidobro, a prolific Cuban poet, essayist, and novelist now living in Hawaii, left his native country as a result of Fidel Castro's revolution. While his career includes a number of theater pieces, poetry, and short-story collections, his most famous title is Desterrados al fuego, literally "Exiled to the Fire," a novel published in 1975 by Fondo de Cultura Economica in Mexico. This semi-autobiographical book was awarded the highest prize in a now-defunct contest for the best first narrative by a Hispanic American. Until recently known only among academics and devotees of Cuban literature, it has aptly been translated into English by a father and daughter team and retitled Qwert and the Wedding Gown.

With a Kafkaesque style at once enlightening and nightmarish, its two protagonists - a first-person narrator and his wife Amanda - try, and eventually succeed, to leave their home country, an anonymous island in the Caribbean ruled by a cruel dictator. Once they are out, the plot moves to the United States, where they look for work while dreaming of assimilating into the new society, and from there to Hawaii. The male character, an anti-hero in the Sartrean tradition, is a writer anxious to find his own literary voice and identity. As the storyline progresses, he loses himself in a sea of angst, undergoes an alienatory stage, is abandoned by Amanda, and, as in a bildungsroman, returns to his Cuban roots. Montes Huidobro, in a direct, compact prose with no unexpected turns, captures his psychological and physical deterioration sometimes by means of linguistic experimentation and other times by using allegorical descriptions that recall The Trial and Nausea, two tides very much present in the novel's style and structure.

Although as a whole Qwert and the Wedding Gown is not entirely satisfying, it ought to be celebrated for its humorous descriptions of bureaucracy as well as for delivering its political message without unnecessary rhetoric. Using symbolic devices, its prose moves away from the particular: the enemy's name is irrelevant, the context unspecified. Qwert, as an archetype, is an everybody and a nobody. His confusion and depression, more than pertaining to a single person, are portrayed as symptoms of an entire civilization - he is just a member of a huge constellation of lost souls. Paying enormous attention to details, its incisive, sensitive pages offer enchanting reflections on God, literature, and middle-class domestic life. At the end, the reader is left thinking that Matias Montes Huidobro has unjustifiably been forgotten and that his work should be known better in the English-speaking world. [Ilan Stavans]
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Stavans, Ilan
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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