The works of José Martí—poet, journalist, revolutionary and apóstol of Cuban independence—fill seventy volumes in one edition and twenty-seven in another. Unlike many of his Latin American contemporaries Martí was not an ideologue, and since his essentially fragmentary writings cover a great range of topics, it is easy for the uninitiated reader to accept a single facet of his thinking as the definitive one. Nowhere is this danger more evident than in recent discussions of Martí’s attitudes toward the United States. Among antiCastro Cuban emigrés he is the archetypical refugee who found a haven, friends and professional opportunities in this country; for supporters of fidelismo he emerges as a visionary precursor who at an early date pointed out to his countrymen the evils of Yankee imperialism and the decay of the North American capitalist system.
The two volumes which concern us here both shed light on Martí’s appraisal of the United States, though Professor Ripoll touches upon the theme only peripherally. Foner’s book, by contrast, deals directly with this question. In addition to the difference in thematic focus, the two works are sufficiently dissimilar to make a direct comparison of them quite difficult.
José Martí: Letras y huellas desconocidas is, like Ripoll’s earlier Escritos desconocidos de Martí, a series of well-documented studies for readers already steeped in martiana. Each of the nine short chapters revolves about a particular set of documents (correspondence, long-buried newspaper articles, etc.) which illuminate little-known details of Martí’s career as a writer and revolutionary. Ripoll’s presentation is scholarly and his tone neutral: the closest his book comes to getting involved in the polemic noted above is in the chapters “Martí en Nueva York: la primera visita,” “Un poema de Martí proletario,” and “El alzamiento de Lajas y la prensa de los Estados Unidos.” In the first of these pieces, especially, Ripoll demonstrates that Martí, though an admirer of many aspects of North American culture, was clearly aware of Yankee expansionist design as early as 1875, the date of his first—and little studied—contact with this country. The other pieces in this volume deal with such diverse topics as the details of Martí’s relationships with Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo, the earliest literary criticism of Martí’s writing, and the specifics of Martí’s whereabouts during the crucial period preceding his return to Cuba in 1895. Again, it should be stressed that Ripoll’s work will be best appreciated by the serious Martí scholar rather than by nonspecialists.
Professor Foner’s Inside the Monster is the first of a projected three-volume collection of translations designed “to give English-reading audiences their first opportunity to become acquainted with the wide scope of his (Martí’s) thought.” The volume includes a forty-page introductory study as well as copious notes by the editor. In the reviewer’s opinion, Foner treats his material fairly and does not contribute to what Luis Baralt has decried as “a recent trend . . . which makes Martí out to be a forerunner of the Communist takeover in Cuba.” Yet the fact that Foner has selected for inclusion in this volume some of Martí’s strongest indictments of the United States could easily lead unwary readers into making hasty judgements about the Cuban’s basic view of the country in which he spent some fourteen years of his life.
At any rate, Foner’s collection makes fascinating reading: Martí’s articles dealing with racial and labor strife are especially vivid, covering as they do the tumultuous 1880s and early 1890s. Elinor Randall’s translations read very well and are a welcome addition to those available in the earlier books of Juan de Onís and Luis Baralt.