This short book contains various descriptions of Cuba’s Ten Years’ War (1868-1878), compiled from the recollections of veterans a decade after the conflict ended by one of Cuba’s leading nineteenth-century prose writers. Although still a youth at the time of the Pacto de Zanjón, Manuel de la Cruz obviously learned to understand the psychology and horror of guerrilla warfare. Above all, he succeeds in showing the tremendous continuity of purpose and drive shown by the mambises. It is undoubtedly for this reason that José Martí enthusiastically endorsed the 1890 work as a masterpiece.

For many years de la Cruz favored autonomy (dominion status) for Cuba, largely because of his admiration for the leading members of the autonomista party, although a visit to Spain in the 1880s convinced him the Mother Country had no right to dictate Cuba’s future to its people. Thus within three years of publishing Episodios he came around to a total rejection of any association with Spain and went into exile. Shortly thereafter he was sent on a mission to Cuba to unify the disparate revolutionary groups there, to expose the fallacy of the Autonomista position, and to size up the strength of the Spanish forces in the colony. His apparent success on all three counts earned him a post with the Cuban Revolutionary Delegation in New York before his death in 1896 —he lived long enough to see Cuba embark on its 1895-1898 War of Liberation.

Most of the stories contain not only detailed and often gory accounts of the military encounters and ambuscades but vivid descriptions of their physical settings as well. The characterizations of the “rebels,” including the odd American mercenary ally, are also graphic. Although de la Cruz portrays the changing fortunes of this somewhat “irregular” war in such a way as to give it a sense of futility, he does leave the reader impressed with the courage and spirit of cooperation found in the average Cuban independence fighter regardless of race—factors ultimately vital to the island’s quest for freedom and to the development of a viable Cubanidad.