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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

January 30, 1994|CHRIS GOODRICH

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS: A Memoir by Reinaldo Arenas, translated by Dolores M. Koch (Viking: $23; 316 pp.). Reinaldo Arenas is probably less well-known these days for his fiction than his death--by suicide, in New York City in 1990, before complete debilitation by AIDS. The disease is almost totally absent from this book, however, for Arenas was too full of life to dwell on such things: "Before Night Falls" is a celebration of the author's personal freedom, even during the decades he spent in his native Cuba under the Castro regime. Arenas was a Castro supporter as a youth, having been given a scholarship, a Marxist education and a job by the soon-to-be Maximum Leader, but his homosexuality and desire to write soon made him persona non grata. "The Ill-Fated Peregrinations of Fray Servando" won a major Cuban cultural award, but was soon banned there, and after the novel was published abroad Castro's security agency began keeping tabs on Arenas, trying to determine how he smuggled his manuscripts out of the country. Eventually Arenas was branded a homosexual counterrevolutionary and arrested, spending years in prison before being allowed--apparently by accident--to emigrate to the United States during the Mariel exodus of 1980. "Before Night Falls" is casually graphic about sex--he describes a number of youthful encounters with barnyard animals and many of his estimated 5,000 homosexual couplings by the age of 25--yet rarely prurient, perhaps because Arenas' promiscuity was fueled by what he calls "a kind of erotic rage." What's most memorable in this memoir, though, is the sense of Arenas writing away--often rewriting away, as many of his manuscripts were confiscated and had to be re-created from scratch, sometimes more than once--in an ultimately successful attempt to make himself free.

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