Island of the White Rose – By R. Ira Harris – Bridge Works Publishing – 2013 – Hardcover – 243 pages – ISBN 978-0-9816175-5-8

Now and then we all need to be reminded about how the world got into this mess.

It sometimes falls to fiction writers to do that reminding, particularly since historians too often neglect their solemn duty in that regard.

The Cuban Revolution of the 1950s is a case in point. A massively corrupt right-wing dictatorship was overthrown by a massively corrupt left-wing dictatorship, nearly resulting a few years later in World War Three.

While just about everyone has heard of the Cuban missile crisis, thanks to our own politically corrupt historians few know the true history of that overthrow.

R. Ira Harris’s Island of the White Rose fictionally attempts to limn the major events leading up to the collapse of the Batista regime.

Political revolutions to oust the wealthy almost never succeed without critical defections from their ranks, and the Cuban situation was no exception.

The central character, a Catholic priest named Pedro Villanueva, comes from a well-to-do family of professionals. He is troubled by his ineffectualness as a clergyman and his newly felt emotional stirrings as he experiences desire for women—two women in particular, one a hardcore revolutionary and the other a young widow with children who helps her plot against the government.

Hitherto, Pedro has never been politically engaged, but now events will work to end his neutrality forever.

At first reluctantly but later with true conviction, Pedro will come to see that the present sadistic regime must come to an end. Ultimately this will mean having to kill someone—for a priest, a truly dispiriting outcome.

On every side, Pedro’s heart and mind are riven with conflict. The largest portion of Island of the White Rose chronicles how he struggles to reconcile what he is forced to do with his attempts to find some kind of peace within himself.

Overall, the book succeeds in integrating its historical background with the plotline. Two reservations, however: Pedro’s troubles, especially in the way they’re written, sometimes verge on over-the-top melodrama of the 19th-century variety. Other readers will probably disagree. In addition, the ending is too abrupt and lacks a satisfactory resolution. If, as rumored, there is a sequel, then all is forgiven.

PARENTAL WARNING: Explicit sex scenes and profanity.


Felicitous phraseology from the text:

“Once more he contrasted the sea and his spiritual life ashore. At sea, we have rules—red, right turning for lights—upwind sloops have right-of-way—what are my rules for myself as a priest and as a man? He had no answers.”

“Where five months earlier the men in the dining room would have all been in tuxedoes, tonight the leaded-glass crystal chandeliers shone down on bushy-bearded Fidelistas in their military fatigues. They appeared to be drinking lemonade.”

“I’m no hero. I’m a hypocrite. I’m not doing what I want, and what I want I can’t be doing. How would you feel?”

“Too many people died to make Cuba free. They’ll never stand for another dictatorship.”

“The swells grew higher. ‘La Rosa Blanca’ heeled sharply on the starboard side. At the bow, the waves seemed to dwarf the sloop, but as she rode through the troughs, she magically leaped over the crests, spray flying back into the cockpit. Above, clouds that at first light had looked like scattered stones now started to coalesce into tufts of darkening gray.”