Just coming off of a primo reading experience. I've always enjoyed Leonardo Padura's crime novels; but Havana Fever (2003), the latest to be translated into English, transcends the genre and launches into realms he's just hinted at in earlier efforts.
This one takes place years after Mario Conde has left the police force. The onetime ace sleuth pursues books for a living these days. Plagued by misgivings and guilt, wary of taking advantage of desperate people selling off the remains of their legacy, he acts as a middle man in selling off the family library. It is in this context that he stumbles across the library of Alcides Monte De Ocas, discovers a clipping about a long lost Cuban chanteuse, and becomes the prime suspect in a murder.
Intrigued, one might say obsessed, he investigates the fate of Bolero singer Violeta del Rio. This quest in and of itself becomes a vehicle for exploring the Cuba that once was. The novel is a study in contrasts, the mythical past which has to be painstakingly pieced together against the
desperate and debauched backdrop of Cuba's present at the end of "the special period," if it can truly be said to have ended.
Famed for his mastery of the noir genre, the only light in this very dark novel comes from the human relationships that will not bow to circumstance. The joy evoked by Conde's windfall and it subsequent use in preparing veritable banquets for him and his longtime friends speaks volumes.
It's ironic really. I have been worrying of late. Propaganda, pedagogy, and prejudice threaten to erase whole swaths of Cuban history. It's as if the world expropriated physically has now been obliterated even in memory, so it is reassuring to see that flame still burning, however tenuous.