Telex from Cuba

Telex from Cuba

A Novel

  • reading group guide
  • freshman reading
Rachel Kushner has written an astonishingly wise, ambitious, and riveting novel set in the American community in Cuba during the years leading up to Castro's revolution—a place that was a paradise for a time and for a few. The first novel to tell the story of the Americans who were driven out in 1958, this is a masterful debut.
Young Everly Lederer and K.C. Stites come of age in Oriente Province, where the Americans tend their own fiefdom—three hundred thousand acres of United Fruit Company sugarcane that surround their gated enclave. If the rural tropics are a child’s dreamworld, Everly and K.C. nevertheless have keen eyes for the indulgences and betrayals of the grown-ups around them—the mordant drinking and illicit loves, the race hierarchies and violence.

In Havana, a thousand kilometers and a world away from the American colony, a cabaret dancer meets a French agitator named Christian de La Mazière, whose seductive demeanor can't mask his shameful past. Together they become enmeshed in the brewing political underground. When Fidel and Raúl Castro lead a revolt from the mountains above the cane plantation, torching the sugar and kidnapping a boat full of “yanqui” revelers, K.C. and Everly begin to discover the brutality that keeps the colony humming. Though their parents remain blissfully untouched by the forces of history, the children hear the whispers of what is to come.

At the time, urgent news was conveyed by telex. Kushner's first novel is a tour de force, haunting and compelling, with the urgency of a telex from a forgotten time and place.
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  • Scribner | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781416561040 | 
  • June 2009
List Price $18.99

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Reading Group Guide

Cuba has long fascinated and compelled writers -- from Ernest Hemingway and Graham Green to Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Russell Banks. Most writers and readers know about the glamorous, renegade, romantic, often corrupt communities of expats and iconic locals in Havana. But there's another piece of the American experience. For half a century, the United States controlled the sugar and nickel operations in Cuba -- the country's two main exports -- centered in the lavish, expatriate "sister" enclaves of Preston and Nicaro, 600 miles east of Havana, but intimately connected.
The United Fruit Company owned 300,000 acres in northeast Oriente Province, an area long considered the cradle of Cuban revolutions. In the midst of UF Co's vast cane plantation were 100 acres the company did not own. Those 100 acres belonged to Fidel and Raul Castro's father. The sons, who grew up excluded from a privileged American world, started the revolution there. Telex from Cuba is the story of that world, told from the point of view of three narrators: a boy whose father runs United Fruit's sugar operation, a girl whose father runs the nickel operation, and a French agitator who helps train the rebels.
Like every great novel told through the eyes of a child, from Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, Telex from Cuba seduces the reader into the drama of a family encountering unexpected conflict and the story of the gradual awakeni see more

About the Author

Rachel Kushner
Photo credit Lucy Raven 2012

Rachel Kushner

Rachel Kushner’s debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the California Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. The Flamethrowers, received rave reviews across the country, and Kushner was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2013. Her fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review, The Believer, Artforum, Bookforum, Fence, Bomb, Cabinet, and Grand Street. She lives in Los Angeles.

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