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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Halfway House

Guillermo Rosales

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To purchase The Halfway House

Title: The Halfway House
Author: Guillermo Rosales
Genre: Novel
Written: 1987 (Eng. 2009)
Length: 121 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Halfway House - US
La casa de los náufragos - US
The Halfway House - UK
The Halfway House - Canada
Mon ange - France
Boarding Home - Deutschland
  • Original Spanish title: Boarding Home; now published as: La casa de los náufragos
  • Translated by Anna Kushner
  • With an Introduction by José Manuel Prieto

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Our Assessment:

B+ : very well-written; very sad

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/10/2004 Paul Ingendaay
The LA Times . 31/5/2009 Susan Salter Reynolds
The National . 16/7/2009 Jascha Hoffman
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 18/12/2004 as
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2010 Thomas McGonigle
Welt am Sonntag A 26/12/2004 Karsten Kredel

  From the Reviews:
  • "Guillermo Rosales braucht nur ein paar Striche, um sein kleines Universum aus Irrsinn, Gewalt und Verzweiflung, verdreckten Fluren und verstopften Toiletten zu beschreiben. Seine Schilderung geht durch Mark und Bein, weil sie ohne Attitüde und sichtbaren Stilwillen daherkommt. Der Ton dieses Elenden, der selbst an kaum etwas schuld ist, aber auch niemanden anders dafür verantwortlich machen will, ist empfindsam, nicht larmoyant; dabei gelassen, nicht kalt. Rosales schreibt genau auf Augenhöhe mit seinem Schicksal, so daß der Leser dieselben Zeichen liest, dieselben Schlüsse ziehen muß wie er." - Paul Ingendaay, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It takes everything he's got to find beauty in the boardinghouse, hell's inner circle. He does what writers living in or running from intolerable political situations do -- weaves another world, like a bird feathering a new nest. Whether that world is inhabitable or not, well, that is another question." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "It would be easy to mistake The Halfway House for a novel about the plight of immigrants struggling to adapt to life in America, or a novel about the inhumanity of mental institutions in the tradition of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. But the book does not fit easily into either category. On one level it is a story of human weakness, about the loss of dignity and willpower. Although its style is plain, its tone is remarkably fluid, shifting between raunchy and literate, clownish and bleak, despairing and naive, English and Spanish. (...) Throughout this tragedy, Rosales maintains an economy of detail that allows him to render situations of great horror with a measure of humour. His story manages to be both an afterimage of the legacy of totalitarianism in Cuba, and a sharp and credible depiction of everyday misery in Miami." - Jascha Hoffman, The National

  • "The Halfway House is possibly the saddest novel I have ever read: so clearly written that the tears drip out of the pages, real tears, tears not of the character’s resignation so skillfully delineated, but my own realization that this is all too common and nothing will ever be done about it. By the time you read this review, the book will have fully disappeared from any bookshop you go into." - Thomas McGonigle, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "So radikal diese Prosa ist, so schön ist sie auch: glasklar und vollendet komponiert -- ein Meisterstück literarischer Verdichtung. Und wenn man sich gerade aller Illusionen beraubt meint, genögen ein paar Absätze, und schon hofft man wieder, mag man es auch besser wissen." - Karsten Kredel, Welt am Sonntag

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Halfway House is a short novella narrated by William Figueras, an obvious stand-in for the author. Figueras fled Cuba for Miami, but didn't turn out to be quite the man his distant relatives hoped he'd be. While not entirely mentally unbalanced, he has been hearing voices for fifteen years, and is admitted to a psychiatric ward on the day of his arrival. One aunt puts up with him for a few months but finally throws in the towel as well, realizing: "Nothing more can be done." So it's off to "the halfway house: the house of human garbage."
       The boarding home that becomes his new home is a small place with twelve rooms, run on the slimmest of budgets and with few amenities, the owner scrimping wherever he can (so that he can live in comfortable luxury). The residents are, to various degrees, mentally ill, and they more or less put up with whatever happens; Figueras does too.
       A writer who was crushed by the authorities' response to his work in Cuba, Figueras sees where he has wound up and thinks:

This is the end of me. I, William Figueras, who read all of Proust when I was fifteen years old, Joyce, Miller, Sartre, Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, Albee, Ionesco, Beckett. I who lived twenty years within the revolution, as its victimizer, witness, victim. Great.
       There's a glimmer of hope when another woman comes to live at the house, Frances. Figueras recognizes her artistic talent -- "You are a tremendous artist. You are", he tells her -- and together they see some sort of hope in escape from this horrible halfway house. But hopes are easily dashed here: as the owner tells Figueras: "You won't do better anywhere else in the world than here."
       Figueras has been torn apart by two systems, the Cuban and the American, unable to find his place in either. So, too, on the smallest scale, he finds:
But it's too late. I've gone from being a witness to being complicit in what happens in the halfway house.
       He becomes part of the system, even as he recognizes how unacceptable it is -- and that's apparently what happened to him in Cuba as well. Differentiating himself from some mindless pop star ("He has no idea who Joyce is, and doesn't care") he writes of that person: "He'll never feel the joy of taking part in a revolution or the subsequent anguish of being devoured by it." Part of Figueras' problem is, of course, the intense guilt he feels, and so he believes he deserves such a sad and sorry fate and can't really fight it. Literature is a bit of an escape -- he frequently retreats to his collection of English Romantic poetry -- but far from sufficient.
       The Halfway House is very straightforward and simple, Figueras' tone occasionally bitter and self-pitying, but also direct and accepting. The story is very well presented -- but it is also a dark and very sad story.
       José Manuel Prieto's Introduction is very good, and helps to introduce the author (a suicide in Miami in 1993) -- though given the detailed reading Prieto offers it would have been better as an afterword (and readers would do well to save it until after they finished Rosales' work). Prieto does go a bit overboard in calling The Halfway House: "one of the best Cuban books of the second half of the twentieth century", but it is certainly a fine work.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 July 2009

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