Fidel's Last Days
Fidel’s Last Days is a novel about a fictional conspiracy to kill Fidel Castro by applying a poisonous topical cream to his hairline. Supposedly the CIA has attempted to assassinate Castro 638 times, but Roland Merullo leads you to believe that maybe this time, with the cream, the secret society, and the beautiful woman, it will work. It has to.
The story moves effortlessly between Carolina Anzar Perez in Miami and Carlos Arroyo Gutierrez in Havana. Carolina is our likeable protagonist. She is powerful, wealthy, independent, and a trained agent of deceit: “At five foot five and 121 pounds, she could incapacitate a man twice her weight with one kick.” But hold onto your envy, because with that independence comes a concomitant void. Beyond her powerful uncle she has no family, no kids, and no peaceful daily existence. But we can tell Caroline won’t give up her espionage for the life of a “domestic would-be saint.” She’ll never back down, she’ll never fail—she is far too good at succeeding.
Carlos is Cuba’s Minister of Health, and in his opinion the country is sick, its strength ready to give way. He is our portal to Castro’s inner circle, where we see that fear, like a vicious school schoolgirl rumor, has infected contemporary Cuba. The torture, the corruption, the death—it’s real. People tell themselves it’s not so they can walk alone after dark to get milk for tomorrow, but Merullo reminds us that it’s real, and that a land governed by fear is a playground for evil.
When given the chance, Carlos risks his life and his loved ones to fight for his ideals. But he is untrained, paranoid, and disillusioned. So we turn the pages, wondering if he can survive under the weight of his task. Meanwhile, Carolina finds herself in the midst of her own inner turmoil, “being tugged gently back again, not all the way back, but closer, into her Cubanness, one high-heeled foot feeling around tentatively in the old world.” Eventually we don’t know who to trust, or just how much is at stake.
Fidel’s Last Days is clever and sneaky, with provocative characters and a transparent look at Cuba’s messy political calculus. Besides that it is thoroughly entertaining and at times even educational.