Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Havana Blue

This book by Leonardo Padura has been languishing around my study for weeks now, waiting to be reflected upon.  I don't know where I heard about this Cuban mystery writer, probably the New Yorker or the Times.  Wherever it was, I think the praise was overexuberant.

That said, now that it has stewed a bit, I won't say that I won't keep reading the series.  The guy has a gift for writing about pork with garlic, memories of high school rivalries, and long-simmering lust.  Which are important things.

In fact, it made me reflect upon the fact that these root pleasures are ones that are difficult to take away from people, even in dire circumstances.  We see that as well in Alan Furst's novels of WWII and the period preceding it, where European resistence fighters eat and fuck and snuggle in cold drafty rooms all around the continent, ever mindful of the fact that the next day could be their last.

That said, it would be interesting to see novels analogous to Padura's coming out of North Korea or Rumania in the peak of the Ceausescu era, would we see similar stories?  Now that I think about it, the Rumanian New Wave, from Lucian Pintilie's The Oak forward, which looks backwards at the Ceausescu times, suggests that it is in fact may be possible to squelch even these carnal pleasures. And the literature and films of the concentration camps (with the perhaps singular exception of the must-see The Night Porter) certainly does not trend towards the celebration of food and sex as ways of maintaining a sense of presence in the face of pain.

At any rate, back to Padura, the guy has a gift for conjuring, if not "the real Cuba" -- and even years of detox from literary theory have not made me begin to believe in that -- then certainly a Cuba he knows, loves, and values.  And that's worthwhile.

The mystery part of the book was surprisingly wooden.  But, after all, the mystery novel has long since been a favored way to move a narrator around an environment to let the author write about the latter.

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