Havana Noir: A Short Review by Rickey Pittman
Having read the New Orleans and Miami editions of the Noir series, I chose Havana Noir (Akashic Books, Achy Obeias, Editor) as the next edition to read and comment upon. I enjoyed this collection of 17 pieces of short fiction tremendously. I was especially interested in Havana Noir for several personal reasons. Here are three:
1) I learned the Spanish I know from Cubanos in Naples, Florida. I also used to listen to the Cuban radio station which I could pick up clearly in my car.
2) I personally knew and interviewed many Cuban immigrants, many of them emigres after Castro’s takeover, many of them from the Mariel Boatlift, all of them with stories that would break your heart.
3) I’ve read of Hemingway’s life in Cuba, read gripping novels like Los Gusanos, and several nonfiction books related to the Mariel Boatlift, Cuba’s history, etc.
This anthology of stories will give you insights into Cuba, its history and culture, both past and present, into the lives of the privileged and the struggles and a revelation of the hardships of most of its citizens. Centered on Havana, the tone is as dark as noir can and should be, the feelings it evokes are intense, and an appreciation for the Cuban writers selected developed. I have thought about creating a reader’s guide for this anthology, focusing on vocabulary and allusions that might be lost on many readers.
The editor says this in her Introduction: “Havana has recently existed only as myth: a garden of delights, a vortex of tarantism . . .the capital site of a social experiment in which humans somehow deny the worst of our natures . . . . She says that need “inevitably turns the human heart feral. In this Havana, crime and violence, though officially vanquished by revolutionary decree, are wistfully quotidian and vicious.” The collection creates the feeling that Cubans live in an especially malevolent naturalism where the apolitical “protagonists are alienated and at risk, caught in ethical quandaries outside of their control, and driven to the very edge . . . These are the children of the Revolution–both the writers and the characters–wandering aimlessly in a post-revolutionary world, a place with no past or future or blame to assign.”
You can find out information on the whole series of noir anthologies by checking out this site: http://www.akashicbooks.com/noirseries.htm
(In my first post, I incorrectly addressed the editor as “he.” My sincere apologies to Achy Obeias!)