One day, I got a bug up my ass (Southern expression) to look up some decent gay memoirs to read on Amazon. Fortunately enough, my search lead me to a few, one being Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas. The description mentioned something about Cuba, and I knew I was in love (for those of you who don’t know, RJ is Cuban). I thought it would be a cool way to brush up on my Cuban history while reading a memoir that received such praise as “one of the best books of this year” – the New York Times Book Review (1993).
The book opens in a VERY graphic way, maintaining the graphicness throughout, and it certainly catches your attention right off the bat. I won’t give away any details, but Arenas does a perfect job painting how impoverished his upbringing was. Worms are involved. Okay sorry that’s all I’ll say.
For the rest of the book, you’re taken on a journey with Reinaldo as he hops around Cuba, searching for his identity as an artist and as a very sexual human being, but I was more enthralled by how raw the writing was. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed about Hispanic writers in general; they’re plots are so juicy, you can sink your teeth into it. Arenas leaves little for the imagination, feeding you graphic detail after graphic detail of his sexual exploits on beaches to his tortuous stay in prison, all the while learning a bit about Communism and the reign of Fidel Castro (a name not uttered in the Aguiar household). I never once got bored reading it because it’s such an interesting read.
Which is probably why it’s been transformed into a film. I was debating whether to wait to write this post until after I had seen the film, but then I felt like I wouldn’t do the novel justice. Arenas spent the very last moments of his life filling this memoir to be shared with the world, and he deserved an unadulterated opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll definitely be purchasing the movie very soon, and I’ve heard great things from those who enjoyed the book, so I’m hoping it won’t disappoint. Plus, Javier Bardem is in it, so it must be good, right?
So if you have any interest in Cuban history and/or prolific Hispanic, gay writers in the last century, give this book a try, I would definitely recommend it to anyone wanting a good, gay memoir.