Fighting Castro: A Love Story

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“Fighting Castro: A Love Story,” written by Washington author Kay Abella, has been called “remarkable and stunning” by critics. The book recounts the true story of “What happens when a Cuban doctor is imprisoned by Castro as a resistance leader and his wife must choose between helping her husband stay alive or staying with her young children. This dilemma is at the heart of the harrowing true saga of Lino and Emy Fernandez. For 17 years. Lino fights against life-threatening cruelty and attempted humiliation in prison while Emy tries to live with the consequences of the decision she made.”

After Dr. Fernandez is thrown into jail, his wife makes the heartbreaking decision to send her three children-all under the age of 5-to America with her parents while she stays behind in Cuba. She doesn’t see her children again for 18 years.

“Emy is the most motherly character, and yet here’s a person who was never allowed to be a mother,” Mrs. Abella said during a recent interview at her Washington home. ” … there is a very moving scene in the book where she says goodbye at the airport, never knowing when she’ll see her children again.”

“The book is really a dual story of his time in prison and her time in Havana. Remember, she was the wife of a traitor, so she had to make her way the best she could as a third-class citizen. … The overarching story is their relationship,” Mrs. Abella said of the love story at the heart of the book. As an example of the couple’s devotion, Mrs. Abella explained, over the years of separation, the Fernandezes would write love letters to each other. Some were confiscated by the jail, others were smuggled out. During an interview for the book, Mrs. Abella recalled Mrs. Fernandez once pulled out a box containing the letters she had kept over the years. “[The letters] are so romantic,” Mrs. Abella said. “It’s hard to imagine a man in such a horrible situation could concentrate on loving someone so much.”

The seeds for “Fighting Castro: A Love Story” perhaps started with Mr. Abella’s extended family in Miami. An elderly aunt, Rosita, a former librarian at the University of Havana, had been saying for years she wanted to collect the family’s stories. Being a writer, Mrs. Abella offered to take over the task.

Then, in 1996, a cousin, Armando Alejandre, was killed when his plane was shot down by the Cuban military. He was a member of “Brothers to the Rescue,” a group which would fly over the waters between Florida and Cuba looking for adrift rafts of Cuban refugees in danger. The group would then contact the Coast Guard to save the refugees from the deadly waters. Castro ordered his military to shoot down the rescue group’s planes.
Mrs. Abella remembers watching the television news that fateful night in horror. “I was so struck by the fact, here was this boy who had left Cuba at a very young age, he lived all his life in Miami, and yet Castro was able to reach over and destroy him anyway,” she said.

Carlos Eire decribes the book in a review:

“Kay Abella has captured the realities of life in Castro’s Cuba with the precision of a great historian and the grace and eloquence of a consummate novelist, bringing to life not only the central characters in her narrative, but also an entire nation. A testament to the resiliency of the human spirit, and a poignant reminder of the suffering that ideologues can cause, this should be required reading for the whole world, and especially for those who continue to think highly of the so-called “achievements” of Fidel Castro or any other despot.”

Read more about the Ms. Abella and her book in this wonderful review from The Litchfield County Times.