José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

A guest post by Asombra:

A new biography of José Martí, in English, came out last November. It was written by Alfred J. López, a literature professor at Purdue University, who was born in New York City of Cuban parents and raised in Miami. I have not yet read it but plan to do so, as it appears to be of significant interest, and I think we should eventually address it here. The official publisher’s blurb, taken from the book’s online sales listing, is as follows:

José Martí (1853–1895) was the founding hero of Cuban independence. In all of modern Latin American history, arguably only the “Great Liberator” Simón Bolívar rivals Martí in stature and legacy. Beyond his accomplishments as a revolutionary and political thinker, Martí was a giant of Latin American letters, whose poetry, essays, and journalism still rank among the most important works of the region. Today he is revered by both the Castro regime and the Cuban exile community, whose shared veneration of the “apostle” of freedom has led to his virtual apotheosis as a national saint.

In José Martí: A Revolutionary Life, Alfred J. López presents the definitive biography of the Cuban patriot and martyr. Writing from a nonpartisan perspective and drawing on years of research using original Cuban and U.S. sources, including materials never before used in a Martí biography, López strips away generations of mythmaking and portrays Martí as Cuba’s greatest founding father and one of Latin America’s literary and political giants, without suppressing his public missteps and personal flaws. In a lively account that engrosses like a novel, López traces the full arc of Martí’s eventful life, from his childhood and adolescence in Cuba, to his first exile and subsequent life in Spain, Mexico City, and Guatemala, through his mature revolutionary period in New York City and much-mythologized death in Cuba on the battlefield at Dos Ríos. The first major biography of Martí in over half a century and the first ever in English, José Martí is the most substantial examination of Martí’s life and work ever published.

The book purports to take a different approach from previous Martí biographies, which the author apparently considers hagiographic and/or heavily politicized one way or the other. For what it’s worth, here’s the opinion of Gustavo Pérez Firmat, a Cuban-American academic and author:

“Alfred López’s biography of Martí, evidently the product of long research and reflection, is a most impressive achievement…It will be the standard biography—in English or Spanish—for years to come.”

Again, I have not read the book, but I wanted to make Babalú readers aware of it.



9 thoughts on “José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

  1. Alberto: I always read the book acknowledgements online and the bibliographical sources before I buy it. Alfred Lopez is grateful in the acknowledgements to accused Castro spy Lisandro Perez; Adriana Mendez Rodenas, an activist with the pro-Castro Areito magazine and Antonio Maceo Brigade and participant in the 1978 “dialogue” with the dictatorship; and Emilio Bejel Aguilera, another Areito collaborator and 1978 “dialogue” participant who has been active with ENCAUSA/US-CUBA to lift the embargo.
    The book is based mostly on secondary sources, although there are scant references to Cuban archives, which he needed special permission to access, especially getting politically approved by the regime. From the online version, I do not see him cite the Military Archive in Madrid, where I obtained a copy of the official Spanish report detailing Marti’s death and burial. The author also overlooked the U.S. State Department files in the National Archives that contain much information on the Cuban independence movement.
    The next to last citation in the epilogue of the book is Fidel Castro’s “History Will Absolve Me.”
    Although he cites my essay “Fernandina Filibuster Fiasco” six times and a primary source link on my website, I have never communicated with him not care to, do to the pro-Castro company he keeps.
    I would not recommend the book due to its poor sources. It appears to be a rehash of Marti’s life based mostly on what’s already been published.

  2. Here’s the reason for Perez-Firmat’s ballyhoo of the book: the author profusely thanks him in the acknowledgements for his many years of long-distance mentorship and his guidance and support with the book.

  3. Not necessarily, Joelima, and certainly not exclusively. I plan to read it, but even if I do “review” it, I think I shouldn’t be the only one who does. There are more qualified people here for that, such as Carlos Eire and Antonio de la Cova, who are actual historians (which admittedly López is not). I understand López was a student and/or professor at FIU, which has long been a contaminated environment, and that probably explains the Lisandro Pérez connection. My sense at this point, before reading the book, is that it doesn’t really reveal anything previously unknown (at least by scholars), but rather takes a different tack to “humanize” Martí, show him “warts and all” and, presumably, steer a more politically neutral course. It may be that, from a certain perspective, the book amounts to a very elaborate college term paper, but it could still become the “standard biography” because of its format and accessibility. My point is that it should be examined and addressed.

    Here’s a link to an interview of López in the Miami New Times in connection with the 2014 Miami Book Fair:–he_just_p.php

  4. I just discovered Alfred J. Lopez ripped off at least two documents from my website without giving me proper credit. The Manuel Mantilla death certificate on page 199 and the Maria Mantilla birth certificate on page 200. While he cites my website as the source of a National Archives document, he took both of these images from my website without permission.

  5. Get him, Professor Tony! You might come across as “un Pesa’o!” But that shit about getting your research lifted without attribution has a special resonance with this “pesa’o!”

  6. Well, I’ve procured a copy of the book, though it may be a while before my “review.” The rest of you are more than welcome to beat me to it.

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