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Dirty Havana Trilogy Hardcover – January, 2001

46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The streetwise gutsiness of Bukowski and Miller pervades Cuban poet Guti rrez's raunchy, symbolic, semi-autobiographical debut novel of life in 1990s Havana. Although the title suggests a triptych, the work more closely resembles a mosaic of short stories bursting with vivid images of exhilaration, depravity, desire and isolation. Narrator Pedro Juan, middle-aged and fed up, has rejected his career as a journalist because "I always had to write as if stupid people were reading me." Resisting the mass exodus from Cuba of August 1994, Pedro Juan now wanders the streets of Havana like a footloose Bacchus, indulging himself with women, marijuana and rum. He survives through a series of menial jobs. His rooftop apartment in central Havana has a spectacular Caribbean view but is, like all dwellings in the decaying economy, frequently without water. Pedro Juan is imprisoned more than once for minor crimes; after one lengthy sentence, he returns home to discover that his lover has replaced him with another man. He eventually drifts back into the urban maelstrom. Prolific, explicit sex scenes reinforce the plight of the artist, and thus a society, limited to physical pleasures where life offers no intellectual or creative rewards. "It's been years since I expected anything, anything at all, of women, or of friends, or even of myself, of anyone." Guti rrez's talent lies in creating a macho, self-abusive protagonist who remains engagingly sympathetic. This searing, no-holds-barred portrait of modern Cuba, expertly translated by Wimmer into prose strong in the rhythms and vulgar beauty of the city, comes complete with a sexy jacket photo. It will attract readers who like their fiction down, dirty and literate. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Grotesquely compelling...Pedro Juan Gutierrez appears destined to become a cult writer.' TLS 'A tale of human ingenuity and hidden hopefulness overcoming near-insuperable odds.' Guardian 'One of the sexiest books I have read in a long time.' David Profumo, Literary Review --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; First Edition edition (January 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374140162
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374140168
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,070,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Pedro Juan Gutiérrez born in 1950 (Matanzas, Cuba). He began to work when he was thirteen years old like a vendor of ice-creams and newspapers. He was a soldier, swimming and kayak instructor, agricultural worker, technician in construction, technical designer, radiostation speaker, and journalist for 26 years.

Gutiérrez is author of several poetry books, and author of "Dirty Havana Trilogy", "El Rey de la Habana" ("The King of Havana"), "Tropical Animal" (winner of the Spanish prize Alfonso García Ramos 2000), the short stories book "Melancolía de los leones" ("Melancholy of the lions"), "The insatiable spiderman" (winner of the Italian prize Narrativa Sur del Mundo), "El nido de la serpiente" ("The snake nest"winner of the Prix des Amériques insulaires et de la Guyane 2008), "Our GG in Havana", and "Corazón mestizo" ("Mestizo heart"), a Cuban travel book.

In his new book, "Diálogo con mi sombra" (2103) Gutiérrez explores in depth the art of writing, but the book is also a wonderful making-of about the work by this Cuban author which has become an enduring myth in Latin American literature.

His use of dirty realism has led some critics to call him the "Caribbean Bukowski". Named master of "dirty realism", Gutiérrez depicts life in the shady alleys of Havana in a direct, visceral style.

His books describe contemporary Cuba from his semi-autobiographical perspective as a disillusioned journalist. Gutiérrez' narrative voice is skeptical, intellectual, humorous, crass, sardonic, and bluntly frank. His literary persona is chiefly concerned with escaping poverty and the pursuit of sex, rum, and writing.

Gutiérrez' stories are typically gritty, tragicomic accounts of himself and his countrymen hustling for money, searching for pleasure and happiness, and struggling in desperate situations. Most chapters incorporate heavy use of a form of irony. His stories illustrate the difficulty of achieving self-sufficiency and contentment in a dysfunctional and poverty-stricken society living under paternalistic government. Despite his grim depiction of many aspects of Cuban life, Gutiérrez' writing stresses his overriding love for Cuban culture. He frequently praises Cuban music, resourcefulness, and joie de vivre.

Gutiérrez writes scornfully of people who avoid risk and self-expression in exchange for smothering safety and boredom-inducing banality.

He lives in Havana where he shares literature with painting.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Harriet Klausner #1 HALL OF FAME on December 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Following the collapse of the silver spoon better known as the Soviet Union, Castro decided to "reform" the Cuban economy in the early nineties. However, the slight change in what a local can own and sell has little effect on the disenfranchised intellectual community.
As an idealistic youth, Pedro Juan expected to become a great writer, but by early 1993, he can no longer deal with journalist reports that treat everyone as if they are morons. He quits his day job and becomes a Communist entrepreneur selling anything and everything including his body. At time he crosses the economic legal line and lands in jail. As he becomes more depravingly self-centered, Pedro Juan seeks wine, women, and weed with no hope for more than a bleak decaying future even with the beautiful Caribbean just outside his reach.
DIRTY HAVANA TRILOGY is a gritty, at times deliberately written in poor taste, series of grimy vignettes loosely tied together through the main character. The story line is not for the faint of heart as Pedro Juan Gutierrez paints a grim, gray look at modern Cuban society. Readers will loathe and sympathize over the downward spiral of the antihero, who compensates from a lack of mental activities with many me-me physical pursuits. Bluntly, Pedro Juan is a racist, sexist person, who deserves no empathy, yet manages to garner plenty from the audience. This novel is quite graphic sexually. It is also a no holds look at a decaying society that Pedro Juan symbolizes in every way possible, spiraling into depravity. This well-written quasi-autobiography will either bring adoring fans to the author or condemnation for bad taste without counting how Fidel will react.

Harriet Klausner
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Prudencio Montesino on February 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover
A must-read for would-be visitors to Cuba! As a cuban-american and lifelong student of Cuban history I was mezmerized by this down and dirty account of life in modern day Cuba. The graphic descriptions of sex and survival are not for the squeamish. Pedro Juan captures the hopelessness and despair that drive so many young cubans to risk their lives on rickety rafts. This "Dirty Havana Trilogy" assaults your senses but won't let you put it down.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Christopher W. Coffman on April 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Gutierrez is a more honest Henry Miller--he reveals the rotten, despairing philosophical underpinnings of his sexual behaviour. Unlike Miller, who tried to justify his actions, Gutierrez is brutally honest about himself. The settings and events are often sordid and disgusting, but the narrator himself is a higher being, a refined sensibility still capable of acknowledging the truth about the actions to which he is driven. The Dirty Havana Trilogy also recalls "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", but the ultra low-budget sewer that is Castro's Cuba makes the Communist Czechoslavkia of Milan Kundera's time look like Donald Trump's New York.
Clearly, this is not a book for those who are easily offended. There is lots of meaningless death, meaningless sex, casually pejorative slurs on people of colour and women, descriptions of filthy and disgusting environments. But, notwithstanding the blurbs on the dust jacket of the book, Gutierrez's work is a very moral work in the sense that any reader will clearly see the cost of such behaviour and be unlikely to imitate the narrator.
It would be fascinating to systematically compare this book, with its indictment of the moral choices remaining to the ordinary person living under Casto's government, to Armando Valladares' "Against all Hope", which is also available on, of course.
This is another interesting addition to the "lying in the gutter and looking at the stars" genre. Highly recommended for those who are up for it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 22, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I was reading an article about P.D. James the English mystery writer. She was quoted as saying if you really want to know about a society; read fiction.
I have always been interested in Cuba. Its been the place an American is not supposed to go to(yet many do go, for many different reasons). Its right in our own back yard. For me its the romantic notions in Hemingway. Its also Meyer Lansky and Mob. Che who has become some kind of romantic marytr.
I have read a number of newspaper articles on Cuba. I was prepared for this book. It is truly gritty. It is not for the faint of heart. But, I feel it is an important novel.
If you can look past the sex, violence, poverty and desperation(which is hard to do), you will find symoblism. I think there is a disappointment with communist experiement. The lack of freedom. The breakdown of communist world. But I don't think it's that simple. I think the author's Cuba and its people still thumb their noses at America while they shake their heads in disappiontment at Fidel and Raul.
I think Cuba is a microcosim of any multiethnic society in decline. What keeps the country afloat is the passion and spirit of the people. I believe the author makes that point. The last chapter is Cuba. But read the book to get the flavor of this very hot and humid place.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Anyone with an interest in contemporary Cuba absolutely must read this book. You may not like it (some readers may be put off by the vulgarity and explicit sexuality), but it stands as a testament to the writer's honesty and artistic courage, and it gives an inside view of an aspect of life in Havana that is unflinching. I've been to Havana. This book depicts a side of the city that the government does its best to make sure no outsiders ever see (and I don't mean this as a political tract against the Castro government -- all governments are solipsistic, including the U.S.). Personally, I found Pedro Juan's writing hard to take at times but also very humanistic and brave. As a novel it's not very satisfying - it's more a series of vignetts. But the writing is colorful, raunchy and hilarious in a down-and-out sort of way. All in all, this is the most important book to come out of Cuba since the writings of Reinaldo Arenas.
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