Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Halfway House by Guillermo Rosales

I have found one of my new favorite authors. Unfortunately I will be able to read little of his work. New Directions recently released The Halfway House- one of two surviving novels by Guillermo Rosales, & the only one translated into English thus far- & it is a haunting & extraordinarily beautiful piece of writing.

Rosales was a double-exile in his life, first from his native Cuba where as Rosales puts it, "Twenty years ago, I finished writing a novel in Cuba that told a love story. It was the story of an affair between a communist and a member of the bourgeoisie, and ended with both of them committing suicide. The novel was never published and my love story was never known by the public at large. The government's literary specialists said my novel was morose, pornographic, and also irreverent, because dealt harshly with the Communist Party. After that, I went crazy."

Though the character's name in The Halfway House is William Figueras, we know from Rosales own tragic biography that this is not far off from his real life story. After fighting with Castro to make Cuba a better place Rosales, & many others, fled for Miami & freedom in 1979. On his arrival though he is shunned by his well-to-do family & bounces around halfway, "those marginal refuges where the desperate and hopeless go," for as his aunt tells him in the beginning of the novel, "you'll be fine here...You'll understand that nothing more can be done." These halfway houses that Rosales was in & out of in Miami (though he did win the Golden Letters Award judged by Octavio Paz) is the bases for the decrepit, disgusting, & brutal setting in The Halfway house.

We still think of Nurse Hatchett & the sterile world of the insane asylum in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest but that world is completely different then the abuse of those with power in the Halfway House & the 'trapped bestial inhabitants' who have nowhere else to go. This book will open your eyes to the Regan-era disregard for the mentally ill.

As I stated before, it is too bad that I will be able to read little of Rosales work, since he destroyed all but two manuscripts before he committed suicide in 1993. Thankfully we have small presses such as New Directions to help preserve those that did survive.

I give this book my highest of recomendations, it is a quick read, & well worth reading a second or third time.


Marie said...

thanks for the heads up on this!

Rachel said...

I just read this book, too, and wow!
Two thumbs up, definitely.