FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Double Exile

The facts about this The Halfway House and its writer are bleak.  Guillermo Rosales fled Cuba in 1979 and shortly thereafter was placed in a halfway house, supposedly by his relatives, because of his schizophrenia.  Born in Havana in 1946, he committed suicide in 1993, but not before writing a number of novels, some of which he destroyed before he took his own life.

The Halfway House (Casa delos náufragos) was published in 1987 in Mexico to “a luke-warm reception,” according to José Manuel Prieto, who wrote the introduction to the English translation, but the 2002 French edition was “a resounding success.”  A subsequent edition in Spain the following year was met with “great acclaim,” bringing further attention to the author’s work, including the current English translation.  Like so many novels of astonishing pain, the author did not live to witness the critical praise of his work.  Like William Figuersa, the protagonist of his sad story, his flame had long burned out.

The halfway house where Figuersa is abandoned resonates with any number of comparable situations in world literature.  The inmate/captives are at the mercy of sadistic overseers, pretty much left to their own meager resources, and dwelling in unspeakable filth and squalor.  Some of them are crazy, but others retain incredible lucidity in spite of the emotionally destructive environment.  Rosales, thus, replicates Cuba suggesting that most of the patients have simply been shifted from one prison (Cuba) to another: the halfway house in Miami.

Most of the inmates are, in fact, Cuban, suffering from an acute sense of exile and alienation, with varying attitudes toward the country of their birth and Fidel Castro.  They mirror a number of the “solutions” to the Cuban issue that many Americans were suggesting during the Cold War.  As one character states, “The United States has to wipe them out.  Drop five or six atomic bombs!  Wipe them out!”

Disturbingly, Figuersa is not simply victim but also victimizer—perhaps the most telling aspect of Rosales’ novel.  The weak prey on the weaker, instituting a brutal pecking order in which no one is not guilty, except perhaps the aged and infirm who have little ability to fight back.  Thus, as Figuersa is brutalized by others, he, too, brutalizes those unable to defend themselves against his own rages.  Although he makes the following observation about the people who manage the halfway house where he resides, the statement applies equally to him: “I also think that you have to be made of the same stuff as hyenas or vultures to own this halfway house.”

For a brief moment, Figuersa identifies the possibility of escape, as he and another inmate to whom he develops a romantic attachment plot their departure.  But that plan is abruptly thwarted and the protagonist finds himself exactly where he has already been: victimizing others in order to endure his own victimization.

Interestingly, two other vehicles sustain him: reading and dreams. Twice in the narrative, the protagonist identifies himself as a serious reader: “…by the age of fifteen I had read the great Proust, Hesse, Joyce, Miller, Mann.  They were for me what saints are to a devout Christian,” and also influence his own narration.  Moreover, throughout the story, Figuersa refers to a volume of English poetry, quoting several times significant poems (such as Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”) which offer an additional insight into his own situation, especially the way he views at himself.

The half a dozen dreams to which he refers are equally revealing, especially two in which  Fidel Castro appear.  In the first, Figuersa has a small cannon which he uses to shoot at a building where Castro has sought refuge.  Although the shots continue throughout the dream, Castro keeps repeating, “You’ll never get me out of here.”  The implications of Castro’s longevity are obvious.

In the second dream, however, after Figuerso believes his own escape from the halfway house is possible, he finds himself at a funeral parlor in Havana.  A door opens and a dozen wailing women carry in a casket containing Fidel Castro.  The women continue weeping as Castro climbs out of the casket and states, “Well, we’re already dead….  Now you’ll see that doesn’t solve anything, either.”

Although The Halfway House has been proclaimed a masterpiece, I would describe it as something less.  Heart wrenching, disturbing, claustrophobic and surreal, Guillermo Rosale’s novella speaks for its author: an almost forgotten cry across vast distances, a faint echo of a plea for mercy and selfhood.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

More articles by:

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

March 26, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How ISIS’s Brutal Project in the Middle East was Finally Overthrown
Joshua Frank
To Celebrate or to Not? The Mueller Question
George Ochenski
The Fox in the Henhouse: Bernhardt at Interior
Thomas Klikauer
Corporate Bullshit
William deBuys
12 Ways to Make Sense of the Border Mess
Robert Fisk
Ardern’s Response to Christchurch has Put Other Leaders to Shame, But Not for Its Compassion Alone
Binoy Kampmark
Disinviting Jordan Peterson: the Faculty of Divinity, Cambridge and Approved Ideas
James C. Kennedy
The Poisonous History of Neo-Classical Economics
Jenna Orkin
Quentin Crisp’s Posthumous Book, the Sequel
Elizabeth Keyes
My Russia Hot-Air Balloon
March 25, 2019
Jonathan Cook
Three Lessons for the Left from the Mueller Inquiry
Dave Lindorff
The TSA’s Role as Journalist Harasser and Media ‘Watchdog’
Tanya Golash-Boza – Michael Golash
Epifanio Camacho: a Militant Farmworker Brushed Out of History
Robert Fisk
Don’t Believe the Hype: Here’s Why ISIS Hasn’t Been Defeated
Jack Rasmus
The Capitulation of Jerome Powell and the Fed
Lawrence Davidson
Israel’s Moves to the Right
John Feffer
After Trump
James Ridgeway
Good Agent, Bad Agent: Robert Mueller and 9/11
Dean Baker
The Importance of Kicking Up: Changing Market Structures So the Rich Don’t Get All the Money
Lawrence Wittner
What Democratic Socialism Is and Is Not
Thomas Knapp
Suppressing Discussion Doesn’t Solve the Problem. It is the Problem.
Stephen Cooper
“I’m a Nine-Star General Now”: an Interview with Black Uhuru’s Duckie Simpson
Andrew Moss
Immigration and the Democratic Hopefuls
Weekend Edition
March 22, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Henry Giroux
The Ghost of Fascism in the Post-Truth Era
Gabriel Rockhill
Spectacular Violence as a Weapon of War Against the Yellow Vests
H. Bruce Franklin
Trump vs. McCain: an American Horror Story
Paul Street
A Pox on the Houses of Trump and McCain, Huxleyan Media, and the Myth of “The Vietnam War”
Andrew Levine
Why Not Impeach?
Bruce E. Levine
Right-Wing Psychiatry, Love-Me Liberals and the Anti-Authoritarian Left
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Darn That (American) Dream
Charles Pierson
Rick Perry, the Saudis and a Dangerous Nuclear Deal
Moshe Adler
American Workers Should Want to Transfer Technology to China
David Rosen
Trafficking or Commercial Sex? What Recent Exposés Reveal
Nick Pemberton
The Real Parallels Between Donald Trump and George Orwell
Binoy Kampmark
Reading Manifestos: Restricting Brenton Tarrant’s The Great Replacement
Brian Cloughley
NATO’s Expensive Anniversaries
Ron Jacobs
Donald Cox: Tale of a Panther
Joseph Grosso
New York’s Hudson Yards: The Revanchist City Lives On
REZA FIYOUZAT
Is It Really So Shocking?
Bob Lord
There’s Plenty of Wealth to Go Around, But It Doesn’t
John W. Whitehead
The Growing Epidemic of Cops Shooting Family Dogs
Jeff Cohen
Let’s Not Restore or Mythologize Obama 
Christy Rodgers
Achieving Escape Velocity
Monika Zgustova
The Masculinity of the Future
Jessicah Pierre
The Real College Admissions Scandal
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail