This is truly a fantastic first novel, in both senses of “fantastic”: really good, but also based on fantasy, unless you are a true believer in the Greek and Santeria gods. Our hero is Antinio, a gay Cuban with a large extended family, perhaps middle class but after the revolution just barely hanging on. The novel is told in the third person, but the main narrator is the Roman emperor, Hadrian (Hadriano), whose lover Antinous dies too early. Antinio is named for him. Hadrian was deified after his death and became a demi-god. In addition, the Santeria Orishas play a major role. Unlike the God of the Judeo Christian tradition, these gods participate actively in the daily lives of their people. Luckily, at the front of the novel there is a list of all the Santeria Orishas and Antinio’s’ choruses: Reason, the Lamenters, the Shriekers, and the Siren, all of whom try to guide him. Also listed are all the humans in the novel.
Antinio has an active gay life in Cuba, with lots of encounters and one primary lover Cloto. Antinio becomes an accomplished linguist and is sent to East Germany for a time. On the way back he hopes to leave the plane in Madrid and apply for asylum, but he is not permitted to leave the plane. Eventually he leaves Cuba on the Mariel Boatlift. He is shipped to Minnesota, where he is harassed for being gay until local gay activists rescue him. He falls in love with his second lover, Laquesio, who dies of AIDS, which was just descending on gays and everyone else. Antonio gets AIDS too, but survives long enough for the new meds which permit him to live his life. He brings his twin boys and former wife to the U.S. They settle in Miami. Antinio moves to San Diego and gets a good job with a high tech translation firm. He falls in love with Atropos in San Francisco. They commute back and forth until Antinio’s job falls apart with newcomers who advocate machine translation rather than human knowledge of language. He moved to San Francisco. His health fails and eventually he commits suicide.
This is an exceedingly rich novel, reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is highly recommended for libraries collecting modern gay literature, especially with a Latinx flavor. It is expertly told, although one must pay attention because Hadrian the main narrator and the Santeria Orishas step in whenever they want to. All readers open to exciting new gay novels will also want to read this book.
James Doig Anderson
Professor Emeritus of Library and Information Science, Rutgers University