This is a 560-page effort to apply the "Gone With the Wind" treatment to the Bay of Pigs. Not a bad idea. Certainly, the full facts about the disastrous 1961 invasion of Cuba, only lately come to light in all their deceit and dishonor are sufficiently dramatic, tragic and riddled with the pockmarks of human foible to furnish foolproof stuff for fiction to tear the heart.
Then, as now, Fidel Castro personified a question of national security: was he, as the cliche experts phrased it, "a thorn in the side" or "a dagger at the heart"? Then, as perhaps still now, the Central Intelligence Agency was determined to remove him. Its operators convinced John F. Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that anti-Castro opposition within Cuba was fierce; only a small spark from outside would ignite a popular uprising. And a small spark was just what the spooks in Washington had engineered: a CIA-trained brigade of 1,453 Cuban exiles to act as spearhead for a handful of squabbling emigre politicians whom agency hands had drummed into a shaky potential new government. In case of disaster, the CIA promised, the brigade could "melt into the mountains."
On these premises, Kennedy plunged ahead, publicly vowing that no U.S. forces would become involved.
The operation's premises were lies. Its execution rested on more lies. No intelligence estimates existed to suggest any uprising. The mountains were too far away to offer emergency shelter. U.S. Navy destroyers actually led the invasion force into the Bay of Pigs. The first men ashore were CIA agents who gave the final go-ahead for the landings. Two U.S. destroyers were shelled by Castro tanks 2,000 yards off the beachhead and came within a hair of triggering World War III.
The exiled Cubans were assured that the invasion would be protected by an aerial "umbrella"; the brigade would be only one of numerous units to mount assaults; fighter pilots "with blue eyes, blond hair and no Spanish" would hold the brigade's rickety bombers harmless. None of this was true. And Kennedy was not told that a logistics expert of the Joint Chiefs judged the landing's chance of success to be marginal without opposition at the beaches (of which there was plenty) and zero in case of opposition.
"Destinies" sputters rather than ignites, telling the tale of the brigade and its quick defeat confusingly and with many inaccuracies. In fiction it may be legitimate for the Navy Chief of Staff to marshal a supurb set of arguments against the invasion (which didn't happen). But even a novel shouldn't place all three of the brigade's beaches within the Bay of Pigs when two were not. Nixon was not the "'action officer' supervising the entire Cuban project." Kennedy vacillated and agonized, but was not the grandstanding clod portrayed here. As history, "Destinies" has small destiny.
The narrative unreels, interminably, over decades in the lives of the Carta clan of Havana and Florida. Papa is a leader: proud, rich and for the invaders, the good guys; Mama is his rich, well-connected American helpmate and very classy. The No. 1 son is an assassin for the bad guys (his motives aren't clear) who eventually returns to Papa and Mama in Miami (for motives also unclear). There is another son and a daughter-in-law whose contributions are almost entirely sexual: hetero, homo, oral, and anal ("a filthy violation").
Assorted CIA functionaries and gunmen and their intrigues sound duly villainous. The Cubans come across as wooden kamikaze artists, essentially fools. In real life, they were much more interesting: brave, passionate, charming, essentially victims of duplicity horrendous enough to undo more worldly types.
In this embarrassing book Cubans are given such lines as, "You rob me of my pride, woman!" Other writing samples: "There was something expressive and sensual about the cast of her mouth." "The undulation of her small rounded buttocks beneath the yellow skirt sent through him a pang of lust." "She loved to travel and enjoyed the lofty and often eclectic circles in which he moved." Enough.
What of the questions a novel might have explored? Were the CIA chiefs convinced that JFK would send in the Marines in case of dire need? How might Khrushchev then have tried to bail out Castro? What truly tugged at the loyalties of the Cubans on both sides? What really made so many leave their homeland, and why did so many more cast their lot with Fidel?
"Destinies" doesn't know. Maybe the movie will.