Lyrical novel by expatriate Cuban writer is more poetry than plot

Singing From the Well, by Reinaldo Arenas. Translated by Andrew Hurley. Viking Press. 186 pp. $16.95. Reinaldo Arenas belongs to the young generation of Cuban writers who left their native land fairly recently. He came to the United States on the Mariel boatlift and now lives in New York City, where he edits a journal of Cuban literature appropriately called Mariel.

The writing of Arenas comes from that strain of contemporary Cuban narrative and poetry characterized by an intensely baroque and lyrical style, in which the language itself appears to take precedence over plot as the essential element. Among others, Alejo Carpentier, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, and most particularly Jos'e Lezama Lima have written in this baroque idiom.

``Allucination,'' an earlier book of Arenas, uses a phantasmagorical and poetical style that he continues in ``Singing From the Well.''

This book concerns the encounter, or inner dialogue, of a child with his own imagination. The relationships of the child with those closest to him are revealed through his eyes: his mother, perceived as both cruel and enchanting; aunts seen as witches; and most important a cousin, Celestino, described as an eccentric poet who writes poems on the trunks of trees.

There is very little plot, or action, in the conventional meaning of the term in ``Singing From the Well.'' There are radiant descriptions of the small Cuban village where the child lives, but the real description is of the child's interior landscape. The reality, or realities, in this book consist of a harsh mother, a strict disciplinarian, and the ruses invented by her sensitive, imaginative child, regarded as ``queer'' by most, to escape to a more perfect existence.

``Singing From the Well'' is indeed a book that is more sung than told, and gives readers a vision of a different Cuba, a more eternal Cuba, an almost mythical, enchanted island, with its rich conglomeration of races, cultures, and religions, where, as in true fairy tale fashion, there is both evil and good to contend with. With this book, Arenas joins an illustrious group of Cuban writers.

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