- Paperback: 310 pages
- Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press; First Edition edition (May 1, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1904738095
- ISBN-13: 978-1904738091
- Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 36 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #332,907 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Havana Red Paperback – May 1, 2005
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Another winner from the same publisher, HAVANA RED is an innovative take on the traditional detective story. Marilyn Stasio -- New York Times, August 14, 2005
About the Author
Leonardo Padura has just won the 2015 Princess of Asturias Literary prize for his life’s work. This prize is said to be the Spanish Nobel Prize. Previous winners include Philip Roth, John Banville, Margaret Atwood, Amin Maalouf and Ismail Kadare. Padura is most famous for his Inspector Mario Conde novels, all published in English by Bitter Lemon Press.
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Top customer reviews
It will help to understand this book (and my review) that the title of this book in the author's native language is "Ma'scaras" (or "Masks" in English), and the book is all about masks/disguises: masks worn by the oppressed; masks worn by the bulk of citizens to avoid incurring the wrath of the state; masks worn by senior government officials that are too powerful to be held accountable; masks worn by spies and moles in the police department. The book is an obviously allegorical account of living under the repressive Cuban regime, and a passionate expression of disgust with that regime, for creating a society in which everyone wears a mask to distort the truth of the society's repression, corruption and failure. As you go through the book, keep a highlighter or pencil nearby and mark each instance you see a reference to a mask, a disguise, a dual identity, a fear of being identified, and you will see what I mean about this book.
The narrative starts off with the discovery of the murder of a young male cross-dresser who is identified as the son of a high government official. Detective Mario Conde, the protagonist (the Count), interviews acquaintances of the victim, which provide insights into the existence, and life under repression, of LGBT residents in Havana. One of the victim's acquaintances in particular, the cross-dressing man with whom he lived, serves as the Detective's guide to the LGBT community, and his life story, more than the victim's, fills the pages of the book. His nickname is "the Marquess" so that you will not miss the point that he is the Detective's gay doppelganger. Meanwhile, in a subplot (from a narrative and not thematic point of view), the detective's department is under one of its periodic investigations and the Detective must watch his back constantly while investigating this sensational crime.
That is the narrative, but it becomes clear that the victim, and the man with whom he lived, and the LGBT community as a whole, are all serving as representatives of all the victims of the Cuban state's repression, political, cultural, etc. I will not spoil the suspense of reading by disclosing who the murderer is, but suffice it to say, that fact too is a symbolic choice of the author, as are the surprising details of the murder, which can be understood as a political statement about the effect of repression. All the clues in the book are symbolic in nature - a medal found on the body is of "the Universal Man"; he has ripped out a page of the Gospel describing Christ's Transfiguration, etc. There is a fantastic passage beginning at page 99 and running through 106 in which the Marquess explains how he was marginalized by the regime that is the heart of the book to me. This was a very daring book and it is still amazing that it was allowed to be published, as blatant an indictment of the society as it is.
While grateful to the British publisher for having had the chance to read this book, I have to note that the translation is painfully British, with many British colloquialisms that are just grating to an American ear: for example, I cannot imagine Cubans saying "mate", "bollocks", "pansy". And I don't believe the spanish verb, regalar, which means to make a gift of something, is properly translated as "regaled"( as in "the long resplendent Montecristo with which Faustino Arayan had regaled him" (p. 112). In my dictionary, "regale" means to entertain, to lavish, to feast; and not to give a small token. And of course, the publisher's decision to re-title the book has probably contributed to many of its readers missing its entire point. But, hopefully, readers of this review will be able to overcome the publisher's unfortunate and ironic "masking". of the author's theme.
This past spring I had a sudden opportunity to visit Cuba, a country that had been essentially closed to America for more than half a century. My own view of Cuban culture through literature was limited to Dirty Havana Trilogy: A Novel in Stories by Cuban author Pedro Juan Gutierrez which I had read several years earlier. Gutierrez told darkly humorous tales of street people and prostitutes as they scratched for a living along the impoverished edges of Havana society. I would have liked to have had a more rounded view of Cuba through its literature prior to my trip there, but time did not cooperate.
One of the Cuban authors that I would have liked to have read before traveling to the island nation was Leonardo Padura, a novelist and short story writer. Padura is best known for the Havana Quartet, a set of four novels (Havana Red, Havana Black, Havana Blue, and Havana Gold) focusing on a fictional police detective by the name of Mario Conde, a frustrated writer who has spent so many years with the police that he now bemoans the fact that he looks like a policeman. Conde, whose friends call him The Count, is also a philosopher and former athlete who would rather be playing sandlot baseball with the neighborhood kids that wading through urban crime life.
The first book in the Havana Quartet, Havana Red, is set in the 1980's, a time when no one doubted the ultimate control of Fidel Castro and the Revolution.
The presenting crime in Havana Red is the strangulation death of a transvestite in a wooded area of Havana. The young adult, dressed in a beautiful red dress, was the son of a prominent political family in Cuba. His death is intriguing because there are no signs that the victim tried to fight off his attacker, and two Cuban pesos had been inserted into his anus. As the philosopher/detective is drawn into the case, he becomes fascinated with the transvestite and gay subcultures of Havana. While the Count is learning hidden truths about the city in which he has always lived, so are Padura's readers.
This book illuminates the lives of ordinary (and some not so ordinary) Cubans as they struggle to survive and achieve a certain amount of personal satisfaction in a state that places the needs of society well above those of the individual. I hope to be able to explore the works of Leon Padura more thoroughly in the future - as well as the city that has always been his home.
Havana Red is a captivating work by a very talented author.
Lieutenant Mario Conde of Havana Homicide has been handed a difficult case. The son of a Cuban diplomat has been murdered in Havana Woods, dressed as a woman.
The case leads Mario into the gay world, which he is manfully determined to understand despite his inborn dislike of "pansies."
There are a lot of elaborate internal monologues and reminiscences in the narration, which are densely written but very effective. In one Mario ponders the possible symbolism of transvestitism. Mario doesn't think like a typical policeman. He can get terrifically fanciful, but it works.
Mario comes to admire a gay dramatist he initially investigates. The man showed great courage under political oppression. But to balance this softening of Mario's machismo, we are treated to an elaborate coupling with a woman picked up at a party. And there's an amusing self-pleasuring situation. We can count on Leonardo Padura for erotic scenes.
I like the exotic locale of the Havana Quartet. Mario wanders among the great mansions built by rich men in Cuba's capitalist past - now turned into offices and housing. And he goes through bouts of paranoia when the Internal Investigations people start going looking into his life.
Havana Red is the second book I've read in the Havana Quartet. Readers who like international crime fiction with a literary bent will appreciate this author.