Cuban Crime Fiction
Tuesday’s Tale of Terror March 22, 2016
With this week’s news focusing on President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba, I thought it might be timely to take a look at who the crime and mystery writers are from Cuba. Reading what is fashionably termed ‘immigrant fiction’ (authors like Junot Diaz or Jhumpa Lahiri) has its values, especially if you want to expand your literary adventures beyond classic or contemporary American and European authors. The earliest crime stories in Cuba were written by Lino Novas Calvo in the 1940s, but you won’t find any in English these days.
A contemporary author that is gaining popularity is Leonardo Padua. He writes dark noir detective stories with moody atmospherics: The Havana Quartet: Havana Gold, Havana Black, Havana Red, Havana Blue. Some reviewers compare his work to Raymond Chandler. In these stories, Lt. Mario Conde is the cop who prefers to be a writer. Here’s a sample of Havana Red:
The heat is a malign plague invading everything. The heat descends like a tight, stretchy cloak of red silk, wrapping itself round bodies, trees and things, to inject there the dark poison of despair and a slower, certain death. It is a punishment without appeal or relief that seems ready to ravage the visible universe, though its lethal vortex must fall on a heretic city, on a district condemned to hell. It tortures mangy, forlorn street dogs searching for a lake in the desert; old men dragging sticks that are more exhausted than their own legs, as they advance against the summer solstice in their daily struggle for survival; once majestic trees, now bent double by the fury of spiralling temperatures; dead dust piled against the sidewalks, longing for a rain that never comes or an indulgent wind, presences able to upset their becalmed fate and transform them into mud, abrasive clouds, storms or cataclysms. The heat crushes everything, tyrannizes the world, corrodes what could be saved and arouses only the most infernal wrath, rancours, envies, hatreds, as if it intended to provoke the end of time, history, humanity and memory . . . But how the fuck can it be so hot? he whispered as he removed his dark glasses to dry the sweat dirtying his face and spat into the street a minuscule gob of phlegm that rolled over the parched dust.
The sweat burned his eyes, and Lieutenant Mario Conde looked up at the sky to clamour for a cloud that would augur relief. And then the shouts of glee hit his brain.
Cristina Garcia is a well-known and prolific writer, Cuban-born American journalist and novelist. Her novel, a finalist for National Book Award Dreaming in Cuban, is described by the San Francisco Chronicle as “Remarkable … an intricate weaving of dramatic events with the supernatural and the cosmic … A rich and haunting narrative, an excellent new voice in contemporary fiction.” This is a family story reflecting elements of magical realism and the struggles of post-revolutionary Cuba. Here’s the opening of Dreaming in Cuban:
Celia del Pino, equipped with binoculars and wearing her best housedress and drop pearl earrings, sits in her wicker swing guarding the north coast of Cuba. Square by square, she searches the night skies for adversaries then scrutinizes the ocean, which is roiling with nine straight days of unseasonable April rains. No sign of gusano traitors. Celia is honored. The neighborhood committee has voted her little brick-and-cement house by the sea as the primary lookout for Santa Teresa del Mar. From her porch, Celia could spot another Bay of Pigs invasion before it happened. She would be feted at the palace, serenaded by a brass orchestra, seduced by El Líder himself on a red velvet divan.
Celia brings the binoculars to rest in her lap and rubs her eyes with stiffened fingers. Her wattled chin trembles. Her eyes smart from the sweetness of the gardenia tree and the salt of the sea. In an hour or two, the fishermen will return, nets empty. The yanquis, rumors go, have ringed the island with nuclear poison, hoping to starve the people and incite a counterrevolution. They will drop germ bombs to wither the sugarcane fields, blacken the rivers, blind horses and pigs. Celia studies the coconut palms lining the beach. Could they be blinking signals to an invisible enemy?
A radio announcer barks fresh conjectures about a possible attack and plays a special recorded message from El Líder: “Eleven years ago tonight, compañeros, you defended our country against American aggressors. Now each and every one of you must guard our future again. Without your support, compañeros, without your sacrifices, there can be no revolution.”
Celia reaches into her straw handbag for more red lipstick, then darkens the mole on her left cheek with a black eyebrow pencil. Her sticky graying hair is tied in a chignon at her neck. Celia played the piano once and still exercises her hands, unconsciously stretching them two notes beyond an octave. She wears leather pumps with her bright housedress.
Her grandson appears in the doorway, his pajama top twisted off his shoulders, his eyes vacant with sleep.
If you are looking for more in Cuban Literature, try this reading list from The New York Times, recommending authors like José Lezama Lima and Alejo Carpentier.
Obama’s Remarks on Cuba, March 22, 2016
Don’t forget to view the INDEX above of more free Tales of Terror. This is a compendium of over 170 short stories by over 100 master storytellers of mystery, supernatural, horror, and ghost stories. Join me in reading one short story every week!
Comments are welcome.
Other Reading Web Sites to Visit
For Authors/Writers: The Writer Unboxed