The Tragedy of Fidel Castro by João Cerqueira

Who ever thought I'd be laughing about religion and politics? 

Synopsis: When God receives a request from Fátima to help prevent a war between Fidel Castro and JFK, he asks his son, Jesus, to return to Earth and diffuse the conflict. On his island, Fidel Castro faces protests on the streets and realizes that he is about to be overthrown. Alone, surrounded, and aware that the end is fast approaching, he plays his last card. Meanwhile, Christ arrives on Earth and teams up with Fátima, who is convinced she can create a miracle to avoid the final battle between JFK and Fidel Castro and save the world as we know it. At the end, something really extraordinary happens! Humorous, rich with metaphor, and refreshingly imaginative, The Tragedy of Fidel Castro was chosen as the book-of-the-month and book-of-the-year by Os Meus Livros magazine.

My two cents:

After a synopsis like that (and a cover as edgy as that!), I couldn't resist this book. In this reimagined world, God entreats Jesus to help Fátima prevent a war between Fidel Castro and JFK. Can Jesus and Fatima with their old-school miracles actually avert the disaster? But wait, let's get a few things straight. Although the characters have names that we're all familiar with, they aren't who we think they are ...

I was initially intimidated by this book because it deals with two areas that most people just steer clear of: religion and politics. Inspired by Jose Saramago's incisive alternate history (I am thinking Cain) and with tinges of magical realism, I had a hunch that this was going to be a challenging read.

Add that fact that I'm a rather apolitical reader so I was worried that I wouldn't "get" it. So I looked for some context for the storyline, a satire based on the Cuban missile crisis. According to Wikipedia:

"The Cuban missile crisisknown as the October crisis in Cuba and the Caribbean crisis in the former USSR—was a 13-day confrontation in October 1962 between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side and the United States on the other side. It was one of the major confrontations of the Cold War, and is generally regarded as the moment in which the Cold War came closest to turning into a nuclear conflict.

So psyched up and with this little bit of background before starting to read a book, I was pleasantly surprised that once I got started, I didn't find it hard to get into this. I really shouldn't have worried!

With the two main characters, JFK and Fidel Castro (and his spy Varadero), two ideologies are subtlety dissected in their to-and-fro. What a treat: thought provoking observations and insights about Capitalism and Socialism, revolution, political factions, lots of leveraging and strategizing (usually involving some good booze and cigars), and lots of spy business. This book opens the gates for discussion on these concepts and more, without disintegrating into anything too serious.

"I come from an island of heat, happiness, and beautiful women. However it is not those features that distinguish my word from yours. In my country, the exploiters and the exploited have given way to a classless society where the state acts for the common good. Our model of Scientific Socialism generates  abundance and allows each citizen to develop his human potential.It is therefore a much more developed state than your decrepit Capitalist society based on the selfishness of the minority that exploits the workers."

"If it's so marvellous, then why do so many try to escape on rafts?" inquired the counselor ironically, sensing a chance to shine with cutting remarks after his stone -skipping failure.

"Will you be quiet? Let the gentleman speak," said JFK sharply.

"In your world, man is alienated from what he produces, transformed into a mere commodity to be bought and sold. To keep prices low, you have created an army of unemployed, thanks to laws that encourage dismissal."

"Is that so? And where people with PhDs drive taxis, not to mention the pros—"   
- p. 18-19 

Meanwhile, the religious thread wasn't as difficult for me to get into. Sure—here I was with my Catholic upbringingactually feeling just a bit blasphemous for enjoying this so much! The beginning already sets the tone of the book: God is screaming "For God's sake!" You just know you're not going to get a serious book, right? However, for the very reasons that I enjoyed this, it may be challenging and even upsetting those who have very strict beliefs about God and Catholicism. It tackles God's relationship with Jesus, miracles, sainthood and faith. If any of these bring up any red flags, this may not be the book for you.

Nothing is held sacred in this book; that's it's beauty. It will poke, poke, poke ... faith, belief, politics, revolt, anyone's convictions, prostitution, Jesus, God, Fatima, and more ... Cerqueira spares any politically correct language, pulls the punches where needed and he doesn't hold back.


For those who do decide to take the plunge, this read can be extremely rewarding. Overall, I found this thought provoking while being plain entertaining, which I wasn't expecting at all!

At the least, this is bound to challenge your preconceptions of how the characters are  supposed to think and act and how events are supposed to unfold. At the most, you'll be laughing like silly when these supposedly straightlaced characters get into all sort of absurd situations and how the single call impacts a critical time in the world's history.

It takes great skill to infuse humour into such staid and potentially inflammatory topics such as political ideologies and religion. But the levity that Cerqueira injects doesn't in any way take away from the seriousness of what's up for discussion.

If I had shied away from this simply because this seemed intimidating, I wouldn't have read this unique, creative and provoking satire. Now that would have been a tragedy.

Verdict: A clever satire! I recommend this book highly if you're a Jose Saramago fan, a history buff, or someone who enjoys political discussion ... it doesn't disappoint! I would likewise recommend this to anyone who is open to new ideas and enjoys being challenged. This is cleverly written, well thought through and with an obviously solid basis in the various topics discussed.

Note: This book is a translation and is really well done. I suspect that like many translated works, reading this in the original would be much better so as to get the full effect. Now if I only knew Spanish (or Portuguese?)

I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. 

Read more:

Buy This Book from Book Depository, Free Delivery World Wide

1 comment

  1. Interesting! While reading the summary I was like "WTF?" Satire, eh? I'm in.


© guiltless readingMaira Gall