Castro: Beautiful brushwork, imperfect picture

Leigh Philips reviews Castro by Reinhard Kleist

December 1, 2011 · 2 min read

Another comic to add to the burgeoning genre of what the French call BD reportage, or – less elegant in English – comic-book journalism, Reinhard Kleist’s graphic‑novel biography of Fidel Castro is, thankfully, no hagiography of the maximo lider. But neither does it present any sound explanation as to how the revolution soured. In this book, it simply happened, as – so the liberal imagination has it – all revolutions do.

Kleist is a German comic book artist whose previous foray into BD reportage, Havana, explored, as the introduction to the current volume puts it, ‘the daily life and difficult living conditions of primarily young Cubans living in an … outdated model of Caribbean socialism.’

It is perhaps the worst sort of liberal conception of Cuba’s path, celebrating the heroic guerilla struggle uncritically and then damning what follows, without any exploration of why things developed as they did. There is no knowing irony when a character tells Castro: ‘Only you can lead the struggle to victory.’

This then flips over to an understandably bitter disillusion at what the revolution did to its writers and later its people in failing to deliver basic foods and consumer items. But there is never any discussion of why this happened. If anything, the blame appears to be placed at the feet of those pushing for farther-reaching changes, notably in the field of land reform, characters who are conflated with communists.

There is no discussion of guerrilla struggle as a strategy. The rebels just seem to win through sheer will. Suddenly Castro’s forces are victorious but there is no explanation of what tipped the balance of forces in their favour, or why this strategy worked in Cuba but not for Che in Bolivia or the Congo. It is also frequently confusing as to why characters do what they do. At one point Castro goes into exile in the US and it’s not clear exactly why.

However beautiful Kleist’s brushwork is and his impressive ability to capture Castro as he ages, there are better works out there exploring what went right and wrong in Cuba since 1959.


Review – Misbehaving

A new edited volume emphasises that the personal is political and highlights the power of spectacular direct action, says Alice Robson

Review – Work Won’t Love You Back

Subtitled 'how devotion to our jobs keeps us exploited, exhausted and alone', Sarah Jaffe's book explores one of neoliberalism's most insidious sleights of hand, writes Marzena Zukowska

Review – Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors

D Hunter's 'Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors' is an exploration of working-class struggle and strength, writes Liam Kennedy


Postcapitalist Desire - Hardcover Art

Review – Postcapitalist Desire: The Final Lectures

Mark Fisher’s 'Postcapitalist Desire' offers glimpses of what types of human life could exist in a world free from capital, writes James Hendrix Elsey.

Review – Asylum for Sale: Profit and Protest in the Migration Industry

Siobhán McGuirk and Adrienne Pine's edited volume is a powerful indictment of the modern migration complex writes Nico Vaccari

Review – Regicide or Revolution? What petitioners wanted, September 1648 – February 1649 by Nora Carlin

Norah Carlin's analysis of the Levellers' petitions reaffirms the radical nature of the English revolution, argues John Rees.