Eliseo Alberto Caracol Beach, translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman (New York: Knopf, 2000)
At the heart of Eliseo Alberto’s terrifying and mesmerizing novel, Caracol Beach, first published in English in 2000, is a mad ex-soldier, Alberto Beto Milanés, a man of Cuban descent who fought in Ibondá de Akú, Angola in a Cuban detachment, of which he was the only survivor. Plagued by horrifying memories of his fellow soldiers and a seemingly real, if invisible, Bengal tiger, Beto Milanés, who has tried and failed at suicide, is determined to find others to help him die.
In short, as the lover of astronomy, Alberto Beto Milanés, might have said, the events of that night of June 20, 1994, were “in the stars.”
When Martin turned and began his retreat, Tom suddenly tackled him and
they both rolled down the slope of wrecked metal in the auto salvage yard.
They fought hard and senselessly and with love. How can that terrible moment
be described if neither of them lived to tell about it?
With that remarkable questioning of his own narrative techniques, Alberto retreats from his seemingly objective narration (something he does numerous times throughout the book) to question not only his authorial motives, but the meaning of it all.
Would it be better to use this page to reflect on the indecency of wars,
which do not end when the politicians sign their peace treaties but live
on in the survivors, the victims of an arduous campaign that still goes
on inside each one of them, between their guts and their hearts?
…But does that make sense? What good would it do? Tom and Martin
won’t read this book: if the document exists, this fiction about facts, it
is because they could not rely on the shield of letters, sentences, para-
graphs, parapets of words. The only way to change destiny would be to
lie, and not even a lie would save men: death, too, is a tyrant.
Alberto here defends fiction as an act of imagination rather than a telling of historical or political truth, which he recognizes would have to be a kind of lie. Life does not represent, after all, an orderly pattern of experience, but is a “totality of coincidences. And accidents” that includes everyone. It is only through the imagination, through a recreation of reality, that forgiveness and redemption can be found.
Los Angeles, August 2, 2000