Cover imageI have a special interest in David Landau’s work: he edited Observation Hill, my second novel due for release August 1, 2015. Perhaps I wouldn’t have selected this book out of thousands, millions, of others, but that is the way of books. They come to us in many ways: assigned, gifted, recommended by older brothers, found on airplanes, selected from shelves because of title or cover, touted by their authors.  Death Is Not Always the Winner, once in my hand, burned in my mind and still burns there. Let the review speak for itself.

Death Is Not Always the Winner by David Landau

David gave me two books a sunny day in North Beach; in his off handed, jovial fashion he said, “Don’t hurry to read them.” Then he laughed. I was definitely going to read them, if not immediately, as fast as I could work through my cue. He filled the balance of our lunch time with stories of “mischief” he was stirring in Guatemala, confounding a corrupt far-left and an empowered far-right. Until I read Death Is Not Always the Winner, something he’d penned a few years ago, I had little idea just how “mischief” informed who David Landau is.

The current resurgence of interplay between the civilian US population and Cuba and the immanent un-cooling (does one dare say warming?) of relations and hope for social commerce, this book is one we must read. We must read it lest we be ignorant of subterfuge on both sides, lest we forget the lessons our government (and Cuba’s) should have—but did not—learn in the last half century, or lest we miss the sense of who Cuban truly are and who they have been. Perhaps we may also learn why.

In 9th grade social studies I asked Mr. Trochel, “Is there going to be war?” Krushchev and Kennedy were at loggerheads over missiles in Cuba. That is as much as I ever knew about Cuban relations. Now, I feel better informed, wiser, attentive.

Landau’s hero, Rodrigo, a nom de guerre, proves his dedication to revolution and his mettle as both a man and a counterrevolutionary. His fortunes and misfortunes are concerning, but both he sets below his work: “It was a beautiful play [on the part of the CIA], and it should have worked with any man – but Rodrigo was not any man.” Rodrigo’s life fighting Batista, Castro, the net of spies and informers living off Castro’s revolution, is our narrative thread through history, a history we must keep in mind as we go forward. His story gives the lie to most of what we hear about Castro’s Cuba and, in a straightforward way to much of what we suspect we know about our government’s activities. Far from being just a history lesson, Rodrigo’s story is a hornbook of culture demonstrating what El Nouevo Hearld said about Landau: [he] “knows the Cuban mind and history better than most Cubans do.”

We begin the story with death, Rodrigo’s impending, promised death. Near the end, we visit the wall of the firing squad with the same man—he, of course, politely refuses the blindfold. Tension, thrilling action, and enough sex even for a quintessential Latin, pepper the hard historical tutelage clothed in a fictional garb of intrigue. It is a breathtaking tale. A story for past times and for today.

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