Before Night Falls

An Autobiography by Reinaldo Arenas

When I picked up this book I found on its cover the arrestingly handsome face of Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), who looked much like the actor, Antonio Bandaras. Arenas was born and raised in Cuba. He was a conscripted participant in Castro’s Revolution and lived to regret it; he was betrayed by relatives and friends and imprisoned, and he grew to loathe Castro and communism. Castro’s dictatorship was even worse than Battista’s, which had preceded it. He escaped to the U.S. in 1980, where his autobiography largely ends. He authored six novels and countless short stories and some poetry; a homosexual, he became one of Cuba’s best known writers before he committed suicide while in the last stages of AIDS in 1990. “I tell my truth like a Jew who has suffered from racism, a Russian who has been in the Gulag, or any human being who has eyes to see things as they are: I cry out: therefore I am.” More

The the appeal of this book withers, like a fecal deposit in the noonday sun. While he provides some interesting anecdotes about Cuba, its Revolution and its aftermath, far, far too much of the book (a third or so) swims in the excrement of a detailed recitation of the lurid, lascivious life of a devout homosexual, who began his debaucheries with dissolute vengeance at the astonishing age of six, and he never looked back. The book overflows with salacious prose that makes the reader feel in constant need of a shower – and ample disinfectant. Arenas gives new, more expansive meaning to baseness and wanton disregard of any form of morality. Whatever insights and data of value that he offers are obfuscated or obliterated by the endless licentious passages.

Arenas screams for freedom, for release from the pains and horrors of life and to surcease the madness within him. The book borders on disgusting, patent pornography. After reading the first fifty pages, I began speed reading, then finger-coursing the lines over the ensuing pages. Could it be this bad all the way? I believe that it is.