The compulsive display of lives undone was what brought me back to the Museo de la Revolución. Early on, I’d checked it off my list of sights seen along with the Museums of Coins, of Cards, of Dance, of Tobacco. One afternoon, I found myself again entering the former palace that now housed the artifacts, if not the soul, of the Revolution.

Massive as a city block, exhausting in its detail, with moments of decadent beauty, the museum was a refuge from the sun and noisy streets.

A scattering of teenagers in cheap green pantsuits hung around looking uniformly bored, though occasionally one would ask as I passed if I needed any help, or at least that’s what I guessed. They could’ve been saying anything to me in their weary tones.

There were few other visitors. A herd of schoolgirls in matching navy skirts and short-sleeved white cotton blouses, who giggled as they stampeded in and then out of the rotunda featuring a life-sized diorama of Che and Cienfuegos, each badly wigged, crouching together in the plastic jungle. A mother held her young son up to one of the displays, murmuring rote history into his tiny ear.

The space was mazy with Plexiglas boxes enshrining Communist saints. A serial reliquary. Hair of a martyred woman, the shoes she was wearing when she was shot. A soldier’s jacket, bloodied through and through. The note found in the pocket of a murdered student. Black-and-white photos from which the dead looked out, their unwavering gazes defiant even now. What strikes me is this: the revolutionaries look like movie stars. They’re all young, and stunning, and running with guns through gorgeous grand buildings filled with gilded mirrors and chandeliers and balconies. They are fighting for the campesinos, for the popular cause, against both tyranny and vice: imperialist Americans with their puppet dictator on the one hand and, on the other, the mafia, terrifying and charismatic. Whoring, gambling, and booze. Zealotry, weapons, and sex. People dancing in the streets. Benny Moré crooning on the soundtrack. How can you not fall in love with the Revolution? It’s a matinee.

excerpt from Mockingbird, a novel of Cuba, music, love and theft.

Julie Trimingham. 2013 MP Publishing