...translated into English with great precision by Frank Wynne ... Although Álvarez’s characters deal with their poverty without wallowing in sorrow, he doesn’t attempt to romanticize them by suggesting that their hardships dignify them ... Álvarez’s prose is terse, which is uncharacteristic of Cuban fiction, and often bleak. He casts a rather cold eye on the parents’ decline and the children’s moral failing...And in a blistering dissection of the revolution’s practice of awarding coveted commodities on the basis of exemplary conduct, the daughter recounts how the prospect of owning a television causes neighbors to attack one another and invent histories of hardship in order to seem more deserving ... [offers] extraordinarily pointed and poignant commentary on one of the twentieth century’s most calamitous social experiments, and on the inheritors of its ruins.
If Carlos Manuel Alvarez’s debut novel The Fallen is any indicator, he is a Cuban writer to watch. His writing is intelligent, powerful, and insightful, and his short novel will prove to be enlightening for those who have visited Cuba, or wish to ... By allowing readers to listen, almost voyeuristically, to the characters tell their stories in fugue-like progression, Alvarez charts the disintegration of a family that symbolizes the breakdown of a country and a culture torn between the older generation’s idealism and the pragmatism and hopes of their progeny. The result is often startling and incisive ... a truly gifted writer.
In chapters which alternate between the perspectives of the four family members, Álvarez slowly and cleverly builds up a picture of a family unit on the brink of collapse ... Although there are moments of delicious dark humour... The Fallen is, in the end, tragic, and surprisingly so, since for much its length the full facts of Armando’s situation are far from clear. The last few chapters, however, show a man struggling desperately to come to terms with the fact that the country he feels he has worked so hard to build is now thought of as an abject failure by his own children.
In chapters which alternate between the perspectives of the four family members, Álvarez slowly and cleverly builds up a picture of a family unit on the brink of collapse ... Although there are moments of delicious dark humour...The Fallen is, in the end, tragic, and surprisingly so, since for much its length the full facts of Armando’s situation are far from clear.
... unlike Guerra’s narrative, Álvarez’s critique of Castrism is not trumpeted in solipsistic fanfare. It is delivered in the mournful rhythm of the bolero ... With The Fallen we are witness to the birth of a new wave of Cuban prose, influenced by the crónica (a hybrid journalistic genre that is at once informative and interpretive), conceived out of his formal training as a journalist, and nurtured by his literary mentors, among whom Capote and Wolfe figure prominently. And Hemingway. In fact, there is much of Hemingway in The Fallen, most of all Hemingway’s restrained prose, 'stripped to its firm young bones, as Dorothy Parker described it ... while Álvarez denies that The Fallen is a political allegory, it is difficult not to read it as one ... I wanted to like this translation very much, partly because I welcome Álvarez’s introduction to an English-speaking audience and partly because I know the reputation of its translator. And while there is much to like about it, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had hoped. While Frank Wynne’s prose is generally fluid, the (apparently) indiscriminate use of negative contraction and noncontraction renders the prose uneven at times. What’s more, his British idiom seems out of place—almost anachronistic—for this text. I say this aware that Wynne is Irish, and that it is absurd to expect that he write in any other idiom. That said, while much of the academic and literary world today is committed to decolonizing literature, the translation’s British idiom, in a way, could be read as a colonizing act ... At best, these foreignizations can cause some degree of cultural dissonance; at worst, they reinforce a mistaken notion that all Latin cultures are the same ... one hopes to see more in translation from this writer.
A searing work of literary excellence, Cuban writer Álvarez’s disturbing, dazzling debut novel arrives stateside, Anglophone-enabled by award-winning Irish writer/translator Wynne. Álvarez unravels this story of an imploding family-in-crisis with symmetrical precision. The novel is in five succinct sections, each of which Álvarez further divides to present the four family members’ points of view, rotating their perspectives in a pattern—visually and narratively—throughout. Although Álvarez’s characters are named, the chapter headings—son, mother, father, daughter—suggest that what happens to this family could happen to any family.
Mariana’s mental and physical decline forms the central plot of The Fallen, and is related in heartbreaking detail, neatly rendered by Frank Wynne ... It is a bold move to load a slim novel with obscure dream sequences. Bolder still is having your narrator declare, at the end of one such passage, that 'The dream was not boring'. It was ... With its cynical riffing on teleological history and the futility of utopianism, The Fallen evokes the postmodernist-influenced intellectual landscape of the 1990s. It feels a bit old hat, but not entirely devoid of contemporary resonance.
...[an] elegant debut ... Occasionally, verbal slippage occurs between Álvarez’s poetic vantage and the voices of the characters, though Wynne’s translation gracefully honors the four voices of the family in startling and sharp language. Álvarez’s fittingly surreal gloss of insight on her characters’ generational divide gives the book real power.
... dreamlike yet insightful ... Álvarez’s debut novel is slim yet contains remarkably detailed portraits of a family watching their country’s revolution creep toward failure in the 1990s ... The chapters alternate points of view among the family members, providing crystalline insights into each person’s experiences and the family’s overall dynamic ... The reader is pulled into a vivid story that’s tender yet never touches on sentimental. Instead, the book pulses with a vivid realism and humanity that is heightened by Wynne’s poetic translation ... Álvarez has written an unnervingly subtle and effective exploration of the cost of blind idealism on families.