Fidel Castro means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. In Reinhard Kleist’s book ‘Castro: A Graphic Novel‘ we get to see the power of what that name meant, and the weight of what that name did. While this book was originally published in 2010 and re-released in 2015 by Arsenal Pulp in English, it is pure coincidence that this book arrived in my hands around the same time as Castro’s passing (as well as not long after President Obama opened up relations with Cuba again). It seems like there could not be more of an appropriate time to examine this graphic novel than right now.
Told through the eyes and camera lens of a fictional German journalist named Karl Mertens, this reporter traveled to Cuba before the Revolution while Fidel is in hiding. From here, we learn the story of what made Fidel into the man he became by the 1950’s, observe the battle towards his victory and eventual Presidency of Cuba that leads to his relationship with the USSR, troubles with the US, The Bay of Pigs and decades of international trade blockades among other major political moments in the history of that nation. At the same time, we watch Castro as a human, interacting with his family, friends, and the Cuban people, all the way to as recent as 2015, after he placed his brother Raul as the President of Cuba.
History comes alive when Reinhard Kleist works his magic, with a stark and energetic style that leaps off the pages. I fell in love with his art after I read “The Boxer,” and seeing how he handled the cluttered chaos of Cuba during a war, in times of peace, and in transition was impressive. There is a lot happening in every well-designed panel, and his control of lights and darks should be taught in art schools. The storytelling is well is riveting, balancing actual history with how it affects our journalist Karl and his friends. Karl is a character with very strict morals, and much like Fidel believes in everything he is doing for his nation is good until the end, even if it means abandoning his loved ones and even the core beliefs of what the revolution was originally about. There are no easy answers in here, and we see that often there is not a right decision to make when it comes to love and politics – all the players in the play can do is make decisions and try to live with them after.
‘Castro: A Graphic Novel‘ comes highly recommended from this website. We have reviewed other political graphic novels recently like ‘Such A Lovely Little War‘, which was an actual first-hand account of growing up in Vietnam during the early 1960’s. While this book utilizes fiction for their secondary characters, they are so life like that it would be easy to believe they were actual people. They certainly represent real people that have lived through this time period (and may still be), and that is a great compliment about the authenticity of the content in this graphic novel. If you are a lover of politics, world history, and good storytelling with great art, this is the book for you.