G. Cabrera Infante: Infante’s Inferno; Harper & Row; New York.

A wire service photo run in some U.S. newspapers prior to the November “elections” in Nicaragua featured an image that is both familiar and disori­enting. The setting: a campaign rally in Managua for Sandinista presidential candidate Daniel Ortega. The center of focus: a young  girl, perhaps 13 or 14, who is wearing a conventional majorette–style uniform–sparkles and spangles. However, instead of twirling a baton or pushing porn-porns, the girl is holding a flag in one hand  …  and  a toy machine gun in the other. Rah-rah, shish, boom bang?

Lately, there has been a proliferation of documents coming into North America from the more-heated regions to the south.  The  items–photo­ graphic, journalistic, cinematic, nov­elistic–are not always what we might expect. In effect, many of us are sud­denly discovering a world that is wholly unlike what we thought we knew–because we never really knew it. Our images, protest though we may, are a collage of Taco Bell, I Love Lucy, and the samba,.

One of the more interesting writers with roots in Latin America is C. Ca­brera Infante. Infante was born in Cuba. In time he became Castro’s head of the Council of Culture; in the early 60’s he was with the Cuban embassy in Brussels as cultural attache. Infante is no longer passing out paperbacks or screening films on a sheet for the bene­fit of his uniformed countrymen in Africa or other countries closer to home. Infante lives in capitalist Lon­don. Infante’s Inferno, an apparently serniautobiographical Bildungsroman, has obvious literariness which gives it the texture of a bona fide novel. How­ever, the admirable quality very rapidly becomes a sore point as Infante be­ comes too literary for his–or the reader’s–good. His obsession with double entendre is a case in point. Infante racks (and I’m talking about the torture device here) his store of literary and cinematic knowledge in order to come up with puns that go from amus­ing to tedious in short order, as he piles one upon the other and then onto the others. Speaking of a young girl, an object of his youthful lust (which ages but never wanes), he says: “She too was an adolescent. How green was my Valli then!” That would be fine if it were not in close proximity to lines like one about a prostitute (all female figures figure into this mold in one way or another): “Perhaps the erroneous notion of the unhappy whore was learned in Nana–whatever  Zola  wants,  Zola gets.” The novel begins to resemble a dense, long-playing record. Because the grooves are so closely packed, there is a tendency for the stylus to leap about the surface. At first, the skips are jarring and unexpected. Soon, they are antici­pated and annoying. Eventually we dis­card the disk.    cc