His book, anyway. I cannot concur with Jason Burke’s assessment in the Observer. I read the book in Spanish last year, and found it engrossing, and not long and slow at all. Castro is a good raconteur, as Burke notes, and he is surprisingly candid for an acting head of government. Of course, he can be so partly because he does not have any electoral matters to worry about.
The fact that Burke focuses more on Ignacio Ramonet’s introduction than on any other section of the book (which is over 600 pages) led me to believe that his attention waned at an early juncture.
Burke criticises a leaden translation, upon which I cannot comment, since I have only read it in the original, but he says this of Castro’s story-telling skills:
This breaks up the long, slow plod through fairly turgid Marxist interpretations of world history, sophomoric anti-Americanism and some fairly haphazard analysis of contemporary foreign affairs (‘In England, the jails are full of Irish prisoners who had political, patriotic motives’).
I wasn’t quite sure what Burke meant by ‘Marxist interpretations of world history’: whether it is an interpretation of world history in the Marxist tradition, or simply world history interpreted by a self-described Marxist. I can’t recall reading either.
‘Leaden’ would not be the word for a translation that rendered ‘estaban’ – were, as ‘are’. In the original, Castro says that the jails were full of Irish prisoners who had political, patriotic motives (I checked). In the very next sentence, he refers to the hunger strikers and the fact that the government allowed them to die. It is pretty clear from this sequence that Castro is not analysing immediately contemporary affairs.
As for the ‘sophomoric anti-Americanism’: leaving aside the question of whether Cuba may consider itself American (Castro refers to African Americans as ‘afro-norteamericanos’), it is true that successive US administrations come in for a fair amount of criticism. Given the treatment meted out by them to Castro’s Cuba (invasion, terrorist bombings, dengue, swine fever, crippling embargo), it is hard to see how one could expect Castro to praise them fulsomely. Perhaps he should simply have neglected to mention this, and other such matters as the US support of apartheid South Africa against Angola. At any rate, he talks of how he was pained at the death of JFK, praises Jimmy Carter, admires Lincoln, and did not think Clinton was too bad.
Burke’s review of Ramonet’s introduction concludes:
‘Apparently, some people believe that journalistic courage consists of lazily repeating the “facts” and interpretations sung in chorus by the mass media over the past five decades,’ he says, clearly implying that he is of a different stamp. A few paragraphs later, the reader learns that ‘this … book has … been totally revised, amended and completed personally by Fidel Castro’.
Shocking stuff, given that the book is titled ‘My Life, by Fidel Castro, with Ignacio Ramonet.’