American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

FAREWELL TO THE SEA (1986). A novel by Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), who was exiled to the United States in 1980 as part of the Mariel boat lift, Farewell to the Sea was written in Cuba and first published in Spain as Otra Vez el Mar (1982), meaning “once more the sea.” The novel, a vivid representation of Arenas’ bitterness over the Castro regime’s restriction of free expression and repression of homosexuality, details the brief seaside vacation of a young married couple. The first half is told from the perspective of the wife, who watches with quiet desperation as her secretly homosexual husband begins a sexual liaison with a young boy vacationing in a neighboring beach house. The novel then switches to the perspective of the husband, a disillusioned supporter of Castro’s revolution and a writer whose voice has been stymied by his policies. The novel’s emphasis is not on plot events but rather on the turmoil of the couple’s inner lives, represented by an experimental and at times chaotic narrative style that alternates between stream of consciousness, flashback, surrealistic hallucination, and poetry.

The sea is a constant in the characters’ lives and a witness to their desperation and entrapment. It is invested with an almost overwhelming metaphorical weight, suggesting, at times, oblivion and forgetfulness, escape from the drudgery of everyday life, an infiniteness associated with a sense of cosmic indifference to the lives of Cubans, the dissolution of physical and psychic boundaries, the unrealizable possibility of escape from Cuba, and the uncontrollable force of repressed desire. [See also LATINO/A LITERATURE OF THE SEA]

Marta Caminero-Santangelo