There are certain books reflecting the truth of one’s own era (or the history that made the era) that carry so much weight, so much moral relevance that they are truly required reading. One of these books is Against All Hope by Armando Valladares, the powerful testimony of freedom, faith and spiritual triumph from a survivor of 22 years in Castro’s barbaric prisons.
Armando Valladares was an innocent victim (as so many thousands were) of Castro’s paranoia and ruthlessness. Valladares was sent to prison simply for voicing his dislike of Communism. He wasn’t an agitator or a rebel; he had never taken part in any anti-government action at all. But it was the mere potential for opposition that Fidel feared so much and so into the prisons went businessmen, priests, soldiers who had fought for him (and for what they mistakenly thought would result in a free Cuba), students, preachers, laborers…Thousands were herded into the grimiest, most horrific prisons imaginable. There they faced torture, beatings, starving, lack of medical care, and innumerable other injustices -- including the ever-busy firing squads.
Valladares had looked forward to a prosperous career in the national bank before his arrest and (without any court procedure at all) lifetime sentence to prison. Castro ended those plans forever. Instead, the dictator and his Communist gangsters decided Valladares was to be nothing but another brutalized political prisoner.
But it didn't work out that way.
Valladares embraced the Christian faith (which had previously been but a nominal part of his experience) and allowed God to mold him into a devout man of prayer and a deeply resolute freedom fighter. Through his survival, his refusal even under the most grueling tortures to join the “Political Rehabilitation,” his prayers and his poems, his nearly successful escape attempt, and his relationships with other heroes, Valladares’ spirit soared even though his weak, broken body suffered. He was no mere prisoner but a victor, proving that the reach even of a totalitarian thug had its limits at the human soul.
For 22 years, the hateful regime punished Valladares until international pressure finally forced their hands. Valladares, a survivor whose writings had already been smuggled out to the world, creating enormous damage to Castro's lying propaganda, was released and deported to France.
But Armando Valladares kept his promise to his fellow prisoners (many already dead) to honor their bravery and spiritual ideals…and to attempt to tell the whole world what life in Castro’s “workers’ paradise” was really like. Against All Hope is that record and that alarm. And again, though it is about as disturbing an account of man’s barbarity as one can take, I believe it to be a must-read.
If one wants to know the truth about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution…if one dares to look into the face of Communism…and if one wonders what capacity for endurance and bravery can rise out of the abyss of corruption and cruelty…Armando Valladares’ Against All Hope is the book to read.
(Added Note -- 2006 marks the 20th anniversary of the original publication of Against All Hope and there is a new edition available. This edition has a new preface which tells of Valladares' life after prison and gives light on the Cuban dissident movement in the years since the book first appeared. Here are pages where you can order it: Amazon; Encounter; and Barnes and Noble. And if you'd like to pass on the Spanish language edition to friends (or your local library), you can get copies (entitled Contra Toda Esperanza) from Best Book Buys here.
(Added Note #2 -- A very brief, but very inspiring, excerpt of Against All Hope was posted here on The Book Den a couple of weeks ago. That post is here.)