by Willard Manus
As shallow as Wolfe dives, G. Cabrera Infante goes deep, very deep, into himself and life. His 1979 novel, INFANTE'S INFERNO, has finally been translated from the original Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine for Dalkey Archive Press.
There is no journalistic taint to this narrative, no explaining instead of showing. Infante can not only write rings around Wolfe, but he is a much bolder and gutsier novelist.
Born in 1928, Infante was a child of the Cuban revolution, serving as a diplomat and a magazine editor for Castro. But his innate honesty, humanity and irreverence got him in trouble with Fidel. He also wrote about sex in such a frank, Rabelasian way as to further alienate Cuba's uptight cultural commissars. Infante was forced into exile and went to Spain, then England. He is the author of both fiction and nonfiction, including Three Trapped Tigers and Holy Smoke. The former was made into a movie, The Lost City, directed by Andy Garcia and starring Dustin Hoffman and Bill Murray. Infante died earlier this year in London.
INFANTE'S INFERNO is written in the first-person and deals, openly and boldly, with the author's life in pre-Castro Cuba. There is no invention here, none of the research Wolfe did in order to construct his campus novel. Infante writes from the heart, the gut and the loins, in a rich, pungent prose that smacks of life in every sentence and paragraph.
INFANTE'S INFERNO deals with the sexual education and adventures of the author. With unabashed and politically incorrect zest, he tries to seduce just about every girl he meets. The refreshing thing about the novel is that the girls are just as horny and lusty as he is, maybe even more so, as evidenced by this scene which describes how he lost his virginity:
"I got on top of her and, without even kissing her...I penetrated her and she responded immediately, moving with a movement that I could only appreciate years later. At this moment I realize I have penetrated her, sex has triumphed, she has initiated me in the other life, where the alter ego lives. I feel a great joy in the pleasure Juliet knows how to give me with her rotary movements, regular at times, different at others, sinking into me to let me float in her, making the bed downy, either down, she weightless or defying gravity bodily...and suddenly she's moaning, as if wounded by a soft dagger, groaning now, crying now, howling now, and amid the screams she says to me softly in my ear, panting, murmuring, whining, 'Now! Hurry'"
Although rooted in a specific time and place, Infante's book offers universal truths about sex, love...and movies, which he appreciates almost as much as he does women. Infante is a Latin- American Henry Miller, only funnier, less pretentious, closer to life. What a tragedy, not to have any more books from him.