Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Excerpt and Giveaway: The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by João Cerqueira

The Tragedy of Fidel Castro
João Cerqueira

Page Count: 188
Release Date: 25 December 2012 (Second edition)
Publisher: River Grove Books (Greenleaf Book Group)

When God receives a request from Fátima to help prevent a war between Fidel Castro and JFK, he asks his son, Jesus, to return to Earth and diffuse the conflict. On his island, Fidel Castro faces protests on the streets and realizes that he is about to be overthrown. Alone, surrounded, and aware that the end is fast approaching, he plays his last card. Meanwhile, Christ arrives on Earth and teams up with Fátima, who is convinced she can create a miracle to avoid the final battle between JFK and Fidel Castro and save the world as we know it. At the end, something really extraordinary happens!

Humorous, rich with metaphor, and refreshingly imaginative, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro was originally published in Portugal by Saída de Emergência. The English translation was picked up by River Grove Books in 2012. It was chosen as the book-of-the-month and book-of-the-year by Os Meus Livros magazine.

As silently as the workers unloaded the cargo containers onto the quay, Varadero left the ship. A link of some sort had broken on the crossing, weakened, no doubt, by his and JFK’s actions. Confused, like someone who feels pain yet cannot locate its source, Varadero fell quiet. He didn’t really know what emotion to adopt. Like someone at a solemn ceremony who hesitates between joy and sadness and ends up confusing the two, he was cleft, and the opposing sides clashed together, leaving a single victim. There was nothing he could do about it. He had already lost control of the bumper cars lodged inside his head. The drivers were beside themselves. All he could do was wait until one of them ran out of fuel. But until that happened—and it might not ever since he owned the petrol station that refuelled both—the torture was tearing him apart.

His mission on behalf of Fidel had gone completely contrary to plan. He had obtained no important information, and had more than once forgotten what he was supposed to be doing in the enemy territory. His cover had been blown because he had become a regular presence at private parties, where the guests were delighted with his mojitos. What is more, he had even gone swimming in the sea with his enemy, who had then set him free. It was straight out of a novel or film, something that could never happen in real life.

Back in his home city, as his automatic pilot took him along routes engraved in his memory, he felt that something was different though everything was apparently the same. And the differences, tangible yet nonexistent, seemed to accentuate as he approached the places that he used to frequent and recognized smells, saw familiar faces, and greeted acquaintances in the street. He wondered if he had in fact returned to his country, or if he had not by chance disembarked on another island that was vaguely similar. Finally, when he realized that all the reference points were still the same, and that the problem must be in himself, he began to wonder who he was, after all, and what he should do.

These ruminations seemed to set in motion a huge complex mechanism, something like a windmill whose blades turned against the wind, and he found his strength being syphoned off. He was dizzy and shivering, with twinges of pain in his body. For a moment, it seemed as if his internal organs had become disconnected and, instead of functioning in synchrony to achieve an autonomous performance, were competing with each other.

Varadero had been trained to resist endless interrogations, sleep deprivation, and electric shocks, and was used to cheating hunger without food and food without hunger. In such situations, he would dig in his heels and refuse to bend, completely sure of his limitless psychological endurance. This, however, was something he had not been prepared for, an unknown game with hidden rules and inscrutable objectives.

He sat down.

Before him was an old ruined palace, which, like him, looked as if it was on the point of collapse. But the building had made a pact with time, while Varadero’s structure was coming apart so fast that it seemed centuries of erosion had been condensed into an hour. Thus, despite the great differences that separate stone from flesh, and insensible masonry from complex thought, both were under threat, in time frames impossible to predict. Renovation might have restored the palace to its former glory, but Varadero was too far gone. The only way he could be salvaged was for the old structure to be demolished and a new one built.

In the sky, the flock of celestial sheep gradually moved, chameleon-like, from orange pastures to purple ones and finally to grey.

Varadero sat there motionless, his eyes absorbed, unaware of the pulsations of the city and the marvels of nature. Nightfall was announced by the luminous eyes of a car that took its attention off the road to observe the man sitting on the pavement. The indiscretion made him jump, and he raised his arms and hands instinctively to shield his eyes against the beam emitted by the pop-eyed orbits of the vehicle.

He gradually became aware of how much time had passed since his strength had failed him, though he could not remember what he had thought about during this time. He thrust his fingers into his hair, tugging at it and twisting it like straw on a pitchfork, in the hope that such toil might bring some clarity to his thoughts.

He got up and walked on, directionless, impelled by mechanical impulses that forced him on rhythmically like a stubborn marionette. His will was no more than a muscular contraction that originated in the legs and spread to the rest of the body. But it was an iron will, for he felt a pressing need to walk as if that action had become an essential biological function, like breathing or the beating of his heart. In this way, he gradually found the right pace, adjusting it when he came to a slope, advancing without effort, unable to stop himself. He didn’t even feel the increase in his body temperature or the first warnings of the torn skin on his toes. To stop now would be to thwart the natural impetus of his body, propelled as it was by the energy of imprisoned winds. As he walked, he no longer saw or heard, for his mind was occupied with more important issues than the reality of the city, and the hubbub of his inner voices stifled the noises of the night. Nevertheless, he managed to avoid obstacles through sheer instinct.

Inside a bubble, he floated aimlessly on the breeze.

God and Christ were surely observing him, perhaps even monitoring his progress, having reserved some crucial role for him in the future. For Varadero managed to proceed unscathed, though he wandered along so erratically that anyone else would soon have been brought to a tragic end. He found impossible spaces right in the middle of a compact platoon of bicycles, anticipated a crossing so precisely that only his back was grazed by passing trucks, and always took the right decision at the traffic lights on the great avenues full of furious vehicles.

But, after hours of wandering back and forth, repeating trajectories and confronting dangers that had already been defeated, his spy brain—that gas-filled balloon—reached maximum dilation point. Varadero let forth a primal shriek that rebounded in the distance, causing shivers to ripple through the darkness. His clenched fists opened like a bow next to his chest, and arrows of sound propelled from his lungs.

Police officers, security guards, and curious members of the public trailed wearily to the scene and found themselves confronted with a figure heaped on the pavement. “Only a drunkard,” they decided, relieved that there were no political motives underlying this disturbance of the public peace. A small crowd gathered, watching Varadero attentively. Some of them grabbed his feet and shook him to confirm the diagnosis that had been proffered. Relieved that the infected waters of the regime had not been stirred up, they hauled him to his feet, censuring such anti-revolutionary behavior. “Shame on you, comrade,” they said, even though some of them really were drunk.

The spontaneous gathering soon broke up as interest dissipated and curiosity gave way to boredom. Held up by some, pushed by others, and feeling less tense but still confused, Varadero went on his wandering way, this time followed by a pack of stray dogs. For various reasons, the canines had also responded to his howl, perceiving that a human was desperately in need of help. From a dog’s perspective, a man can be both a god to be worshipped or a fragile creature in need of protection, and in either case he is prepared to serve him for the rest of his life. Seeing him prostrate, they licked his face and tugged at his clothing, trying to revive him. They growled protectively whenever humans drew near. Unable to understand Varadero’s internal conflict, they sensed his fragility and escorted him silently. They would have put him out of his misery, had it been necessary, but for now they were prepared to give their own lives to defend him. The passers-by could not get near him for he was surrounded by an implacable bodyguard, ready to attack; thus, a way opened up before him on the pavement.

The spy’s security corps, which contained dogs of all sizes, types, and colors, could have been taken as a model of a just society in which everyone was given equal opportunity. Or, it could have served as an example of a dictatorship in which the tyrant needs a praetorian guard just to venture out into the street. For Varadero it was much simpler. Accompanied by animals, feeling their soft fur and hot breath on his hands, he recovered his peace.

About the Author

João Cerqueira has a PhD in History of Art from the University of Oporto. He had a four year research sponsorship grant awarded by the Portuguese Science and Technology Foundation (FCT), within the field of history of art. He covered the Porto 2001 European Capital of Culture for Arte Ibérica magazine. He is the author of seven books, which satirize modern society and use irony and humour to provoke reflection and controversy.

His favorite writers are Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Virginia Wolf, Pär Largerkvist, Mikhail Bulgakov, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, Phillip Roth, Cormac MacCarthy, Flannery O’Connor, Paul Auster, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gunter Gräss, W. G. Sebald, Italo Calvino, Henrique Vila-Matas, Mario Vargas Llosa, Fialho de Almeida, Eça de Queirós, José Saramago, Lobo Antunes, Dulce Maria Cardoso e Mário de Carvalho. One book that he particularly likes is Erasmus’s In Praise of Folly.

His other interests include: travel, arts, photography, architecture, performance, theatre, politics, religion, history, ecology, biological agriculture, cooking, wine, alternative music, tennis, martial arts, cats and dogs.

João is represented by the Kontext Agency.


The author has been kind enough to offer 1 print copy and 5 eBook copies of The Tragedy of Fidel Castro to 6 lucky commenters! To enter, tell me:
What's your take on political fiction? Love it, hate it, wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot-pole? The Tragedy of Fidel Castro is at once an intense story and a wry, inventive social commentary on communist Cuba during the Cold War. What's a political event or issue that you'd love to see fictionalized?
With my Korean roots, I'd LOVE to see a novel about the Korean War. There are so many about the Revolutionary War, the American Civil War, the Spanish-American War, and of course the two World Wars, but I don't think I've seen any that deal with JUST the Korean War. My great-grandfather was actually killed during battle, so I have a distant personal connection to it.

This goes without saying, but please make your comment meaningful! We only want thoughtful, relevant answers, here. Comments only consisting of "I like it, thanks for the giveaway" or "I don't really have any political events" will NOT be considered for entry!

Extra entries to João's and my followers! We love you all xxxx

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