The 2002 book Spy’s Fate is one of those novels you’d never discover unless you went into a bookstore. A recommendation by one of the staff and only stocked because of their passion for it, I picked it up on a whim after seeing it several times on visits to a local bookstore called The Book Table. The book is an excellent spy story told from a point of view that is rarely seen. Author Arnaldo Correa is touted as one of the founders of noir writing in Cuba. He is also probably the only spy writer to have his writing recommended by Fidel Castro!
The novel, set in the early 90’s as Cuba is dealing with the collapse of the USSR and the resulting economic strife caused by the loss of their greatest supporter, follows one of their best field agents who is called back home and put out to pasture. The new economic reality doesn’t allow for Cuban spies to be gallivanting around African or South American countries. In the years he’s been gone his family has fractured following the death of his wife. His children have decided to take the dangerous trip thousands of Cubans already had – across the 50 mile stretch of ocean to reach Florida and a new life.
We eventually see our spy, Carlos Manuel, go on a road trip across America and dodging old CIA enemies. There are plenty of twists and turns and for a writer who lives in Cuba the story is quite balanced in its criticism of both US and Cuban policies with neither government coming off especially well. Seeing a Cuban spy pull one over on the CIA is a refreshing change of pace and totally earned by the writing of the character.
Correa is writing in a different language from his first, spanish, and due to that some of the writing is a bit stiff and workmanlike however his plot and characters more than compensate for that.
Also of note are the wonderfully vivid settings in Cuba. The book greatly benefits from someone who has lived and breathed that air all his life. It’s a novel that, while critical of some things, is still solidly positive about communist Cuba which certainly puts him at odds with much of the Cuban American community. He also puts his finger on some of the changes to the political realities of the Cuban exiles integrating into American life as memories of Cuba fade away and pine for a place that doesn’t exist anymore.
Although Correa is well known in Cuba as a master of the crime story, this appears to be the author’s only spy novel, or at least the only one written in English, and I highly suggest searching it out.
Spy’s Fate is a smart, scandalous portrayal of the inept misadventures of post–Cold War US and Cuban intelligence operations. At the center of the novel is Carlos Manuel (alias Roberto), who for two decades has built his reputation—and guarded his anonymity—as a Cuban special services agent in Africa and Latin America. When his wife dies, he returns to Havana to discover his country’s economy in disarray, along with its intelligence infrastructure. Widowed and jobless, he finds himself completely alienated from his children and from the country he has served.
After his kids embark on a disastrous raft ride to the US, Carlos Manuel steals a yacht and sails after them into the stormy Atlantic. A last-minute decision saves his children, but leaves him stranded in Miami—just one step ahead of the CIA, for whom he is a murder suspect, and Cuban Intelligence, who mistakenly believe he has defected. Complicating matters is Sidney King, a maniacally vindictive CIA bureaucrat. The hunter becomes the hunted as Carlos finally encounters his old nemesis—and the ravaging violence of his former life.