Reviewer: Evelyn Finch
Publisher: Vertigo (DC Comics)
Writer: Inverna Lockpez
Artist: Dean Haspiel
Genre: Graphic Novel (Hardcover)
MSRP: $24.99 U.S.
Release Date: September 14, 2010
Having always been fascinated by history, especially the rich history of Latin America, the revolution in Cuba has been something of an interesting subject to me. As touchy a subject that is that of Fidel Castro’s rule over the beautiful island country, Cuba: My Revolution is a bold, beautiful and mesmerizing story that needed to have been told and you will not regret reading it even if you find the subject matter controversial. It’s a true to life story that makes this an amazing reading experience and one of the best comics we’ve read so far.
The story is taken from the life and memories of artist (and now writer) Inverna Lockpez who recounts her life in the days before Castro and the revolutionary troops marched into Havana to the aftermath that made her slowly question the direction her country is heading in the late 1960s. We see Cuba through the eyes of 17-year old Sonya who, in January of 1959, witnessed her country change right before her eyes.
As Fidel Castro marched into Havana, dictator Fulgencio Batista quietly boarded a plane and left the country he had reshaped with the help of the American government that supported him and the Sinatra-era gangsters that owned casinos, clubs and hotels. Sonya, like so many others, saw Castro’s arrival as a breath of fresh air and the beginning of a new Cuba that was made with the people in mind. During a televised speech, Sonya was even convinced that Castro was the “chosen one.”
So putting aside her aspirations as an artist, Sonya – the daughter of a physician – leaned more towards the medical field in order to help the revolutionary cause. Even her mother and stepfather feel moved by the revolution and Castro’s promising words as Sonya becomes a surgeon. Haunted by the absence of her boyfriend named Flavio, who left for the United States, Sonya tries to bury herself in her work supporting the revolution that needs her now that Castro is worried that the United States would invade.
As it turns out, there is an American invasion that quickly becomes known as the Bay of Pigs incident and Sonya is smack in the middle of the battlefront as a physician and member of the military. Having been trained to fire a rifle for combat purposes and trained to use a scalpel in her role as surgeon, Sonya sees the horrors of the violent confrontation until she comes face-to-face with the person she never thought she would see fighting against Castro … her boyfriend Flavio. What happens to him is tragic enough that Sonya doesn’t quite recover after it.
The worst part of Sonya’s life comes when she tends to an injured enemy who turns out to be yet another American-trained Cuban mercenaries. Doing it out of her duty as a physician to help an injured human being, she ignores the guards and bandages the mercenary who – out of gratitude – gives her a pendant of the patron saint of Cuba. As a result, she is immediately whisked away to a cell where she is accused of being a traitor working for the CIA. Stripped of her clothes, she is constantly sprayed with hot and cold water until Sonya’s spirit begins to break.
It is her father who comes to her rescue and, despite this horrible ordeal, she continues to believe in Castro’s Cuba. She tells herself that all the changes are for the good of the people but it is hard not to ignore the tyrannical rules that have turned friendly neighbors into spies for the new Cuban government and the country turning Communist. It becomes harder to find something as simple as nail polish and the freedoms they once enjoyed have been replaced by censorship.
The graphic novel dives into Sonya’s family as well, especially her mother who almost died giving birth to Sonya’s stepsister and, later, tries to convince Sonya to leave to the United States with them. Her mother even makes two failed attempts but Sonya is still convinced that Castro has Cuba’s best interests in mind. She returns to her love of art, attending art school where she meets Carlos (who becomes the new love in her life) as well as other art students.
What she finds is a government that censors art that doesn’t praise Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara or the revolution. It isn’t until an art exhibit turns sour and a chance meeting with one of the masterminds of the revolution, Celia Sanchez, that doesn’t go as well she thought that convinces Sonya to make a very bold move.
There is sincere affection in Lockpez’s writing as well as genuine emotion in the way she describes the changes her country goes through. She unflinchingly goes through some painful moments through Sonya such as the panic attacks she gets after her imprisonment or what she had to do to get some money to help her mother get out of the country. Then there’s Dean Haspiel’s art that never ceases to impress or show true emotion in his characters.
In the end, what we have in Cuba: My Revolution is a passionate, profound and compelling piece of work that will stay with you long after you put this graphic novel down. Through the eyes of Sonya, we experience a revolution but also disillusionment of a people’s movement that she so passionately believed in until its reality showed her the truth. This is an unforgettable story and a graphic novel you need to read.
COMIC REVOLUTION RATING BREAKDOWN
Taken from the memories of Inverna Lockpez, this true to life story revolves around a young woman named Sonya who strongly believes in Fidel Castro and the Cuban revolution until – very slowly – she becomes disillusioned by the way Castro’s regime has transformed her country into something else. While taking part in key moments after the revolution, Sonya throws herself into her love of art but the new Cuba forces her to see that some changes aren’t all good.
Dean Haspiel’s art has always been impressive and, together with Jose Villarrubia, they make the art in Cuba a truly visceral experience. This is one attractive-looking graphic novel.
Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel recount a story that is powerful, shocking and utterly mesmerizing to the point that you will not want to put this book down. For anyone who ever wanted to know about the Cuban revolution through a different viewpoint, Cuba: My Revolution is a graphic novel that you definitely need to pick up right away.
Review copy provided by Vertigo (DC Comics)