Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez

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Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez

Buy Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A beefy graphic novel, that finely shows a young Cuban emigre's lot, from the near-hellish upbringing, to the extended efforts to leave, to the near-hellish American illiberalism of the last few years.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: November 2023
Publisher: W&N
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781474616720

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We're in childhood, and we're in Cuba. The revolution has happened, and Castro, first thought of as a saviour of the country, has proven himself a Communist, and not done nearly enough to create a level playing field for all. Well, those hours-long speeches of his were kind of taking his time away. Our narrator's family weren't in the happiest of places here, an uncle refusing to be the good soldier the country demanded (especially as he would probably be shipped off to some minor pro-Communism skirmish, such as Angola) and the father being watched and watched, and not liked for his successful photography business, success being frowned upon. The mother gets the couple jobs with the party to ease some of the heat, but in this sultry island country, it remains the kind of heat forcing you out of the kitchen…

A first flick through this shows the book to look fairly wordy, and with a very reduced palette. A proper read shows it to be actually very engagingly written, with yes a strong proportion of captions as opposed to dialogue, but not to anything's detriment. The palette remains – the military-styled green, the red (perhaps of our kid's sister's Pioneer uniform beret), and very little else. At one point we gain a peach/pink, and there are splashes of orange later that I will come to. It's an approach that makes the pages look full of realistic life, and yet quite startling with it.

And the contents aren't exactly humdrum, either. Cuba at the time was a place where anything was illegal, if someone high up said it was. If they didn't want people to have their own pigs, it was twenty years in prison for having pork chops in the freezer. But this is not all political stuff – a chapter concerning a particular disease of the legs is early on, where our young hero plays in the dirt so much he gains parasites under the skin. Eventually, however, the pressure on the family – with the kids being forced to face state indoctrination instead of actual education – brings things to a head, and the chance to get out and head for the US is too much to resist. This would make each one of them a worm, in the words of the state-sanctioned anti-leaving rentamobs, but so be it. Only, with the camp system and the delays and the bureaucracy, many actual worms were moving faster…

Eventually our man's extended family gains a footing in Miami, and the final sections are of what happened since then. I had somehow got through life without knowing the creator's history of startling anti-Trump posters and magazine covers (I said there was orange on these pages…), but this is covered in later sections, which all go to show the politics of this to be really thoughtfully done. For one thing, Cuba does not come off well, totalitarian leader and all that. The whole gamut of details about the place is unrecognisable for someone brought up on the MSM and Michael Moore-endorsed opinions as seen in Sicko. And Che Guevara is called a mercenary here to start with; I prefer gun for hire, for that is what he was. Freedom fighter is farcical terminology, I personally find.

So this is equally barbed when people crap on our creator for his anti-Trump posters and declare he is an unwelcome immigrant hiding behind liberalism. This is a man who grew up with the snooper state, the poverty, the queues to purchase crap of socialism, for one. This is a man who went back in 1994 and found his contemporaries forced into criminality or just cutting sugar cane for two dollars a week, or watching their land just grow carrots for the Western tourists on their jollies. Oh look, a 50s car; oh listen, dance music. How quaint.

Yes, this it seems to me is the honest look at Cuba, the country behind the prettified glamour and facade of Havana the dollar-importing tourist and socialist journalist would want to be shown. This is a book showing how horrific rulers can crop up any side of the Gulf of Mexico. This is a most suitable, well-judged and very finely drawn lesson in what migrants are too often seeking. The freedom from oppression; the freedom to have elections, proper education and, er, apples. It comes with too much accuracy and authenticity to factor in any preachiness, either, making this an accessible look at a misunderstood country, and love letter to the parents and family that got its producer to where he is now.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For further politically-minded guides to countries having a dictatorial mindset, we recommend Tiananmen 1989: Our Shattered Hopes by Lun Zhang, Adrien Gombeaud, Ameziane and Edward Gauvin (translator).

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Buy Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.

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