The author of the brilliant and highly acclaimed memoir, Before Night Falls, Reinaldo Arenas concluded his sequence of five novels - at once a "secret history of Cuba" and a writer's autobiography - with an allegorical satire. In The Assault, he paints a harrowing, yet at times boldly entertaining, Kafkaesque picture of a dehumanized people and the despair of an observer/narrator himself clinging to sanity. This profane narrative, filled with righteous rage, takes us on a surreal journey through a blackly humorous shadowland where philosophical discussion, homosexuality, and forgetting the words to heroic anthems are comparable crimes - and a cockroach hunt makes a national holiday. With echoes of Rabelais, Swift, Orwell, and the films of Lois Bunuel, The Assault crowns the work of one of the most visionary writers to have emerged from Castro's Cuba, a writer whom Octavio Paz called "remarkable... as much for his intellectual dignity as for his talent."
Set after the ``last big war'' in a society of ``degenerate beasts''--where human beings have snouts and claws and the criminals sport polished shaved heads--this is the final novel in the late Cuban-born Arenas's ``Pentagonia'' quintet ( Singing from the Well ; The Palace of the White Skunks , etc. ), a fictional exploration of Castro-era Cuba. Narrated by an agent for the ``Bureau of Counterwhispering,'' the novel details the agent's mission to find and execute whisperers against the ``Glorious Nation'' and its ``Represident.'' It's a country where ``no one has a name, and all orientations help to make sure that one stranger is exactly like every other stranger, so that no one can remember anybody in particular, and therefore no one can be remembered.'' His motivation, however, is more personal than political: a desire to find and kill his mother because he is ``coming to look more like her every day''--and herein lies the key to Arenas's parable. But this brief and original novel is burdened with much repetition; the thin plot is hindered by the excessive partitioning of the narrative into short chapters. More satire than allegory, the book is also hurt by an abrupt ending. But Arenas does draw a disturbing portrait of the political extremes and superfluous nationalism of a society headed toward a point where ``every person will find joy in betraying every other person, eating every other person, and for that they will even patiently wait their turn.'' (July)