Singing from the Well

Front Cover
Penguin Books, 1988 - Fiction - 206 pages
19 Reviews
A POWERFUL NOVEL OF GROWING UP IN A WORLD WHERE NIGHTMARE HAS BECOME REALITY, AND FANTASY PROVIDES THE ONLY ESCAPE

His mother talks piously of the heaven that awaits the good, and disciplines him with an ox prod. His grandmother burns his treasured crosses for kindling. His cousins meet to plot their grandfather's death. Yet in the hills surrounding his home, another reality exists, a place where his mother wears flowers in her hair, and his cousin Celestino, a poet who inscribes verse on the trunks of trees, understands his visions.

The first novel in Reinaldo Arenas's "secret history of Cuba", a quintet he called the Pentagonia, Singing from the Well is by turns explosively crude and breathtakingly lyrical. In the end, it is a stunning depiction of childhood besieged by horro -- and a moving defense of liberty and the imagination in a world of barbarity, persecution, and ignorance.

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Review: Singing from the Well

User Review  - Ronald Wilcox - Goodreads

Surreal. Tangential. Bizarre. Interesting. Four words that sum up the first book in the Pentagonia. Arena's main character is a little boy from a very poor family who constantly imagines strange things about his family that help him to deal with their abusive behavior. Read full review

Review: Singing from the Well

User Review  - Chris Campanioni - Goodreads

I compare Arenas' debut novel (and the first in his Pentagonia) to YA for intellectuals. This is a surreal, fragmented picture of life as a child in Cuba. Read full review

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About the author (1988)

Reinaldo Arenas was born in Cuba in 1943. In 1980, he was one of 120,000 Cubans who arrived in the United States on the Mariel boatlift. Arenas settled in New York where he lived until his death from AIDS ten years later.

Thomas Colchie is an acclaimed translator, editor, and literary agent for international authors. He is the editor of A Hammock Beneath the Mangoes. He has written for the Village Voice and The Washington Post. His translations include Manuel Puig's Kiss of the Spider Woman and (with Elizabeth Bishop, Gregory Rabassa, and Mark Strand) Carlos Drummond de Andrade's Travelling in the Family.


Andrew Hurley is a translator of numerous works of literature, criticism, history, and memoir. He is professor emeritus at the University of Puerto Rico.

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