Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Review: Adios Hemingway

Leonardo Padura Fuentes. Trans. John King. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2005.
Isbn 1841955418 (pbk.)

by Michael Sedano

It has been a month already that Manuel Ramos reviewed Leonardo Padura’s Adiós Hemingway, the murder mystery featuring retired Havana cop turned writer, Inspector Conde. Good tip, Manuel, thanks.

I hope other readers at La Bloga have been able to read this and we can hear from others about this interesting and fun novel.

Cuba and Cuban writers have given us plentiful evidence of a battle for the hearts and minds of the United States reader. Reading works like Daniel Chavarria’s Adios Muchachos is liable to lead a person to think Cuba has a wildly ribald sense of humor; Jose Latour’s The Outcast, that Cubans want to seize a share of the US noir fiction market. Now along comes Leonardo Padura’s ironic murder mystery, Adiós Hemingway and a reader is liable to think Cuban fiction deserves an extended investigation. There goes the domestic market.

As Ramos told us in July, Conde gets to solve a fifty year old murder, be good to his friends, think about getting to be an old man, dream about Ava Gardner’s knickers, and conduct a psychological post-mortem on Papa Hemingway in his final days.

Knickers. Frilly lacy see-through things that a movie star would have trysted to attract a man’s fancy. What we called “panties”. But translator John King writes a British Engliish, so knickers it is. And “–our” spellings, and other foreignisms that are the unexpected consequence of the US blockade of dangerous tipos like Conde and his lifelong friends. Protect us from scenes like this:

Despite the heat he found the streets teeming with people. They all seemed trapped by an anxiety that could only be relieved through shouting, violent gestures and resentful glances. Life goaded them on and flung them into an everyday war that took place in the open air and on all fronts. While some sold anything you could imagine, others bought, or dreamed of buying. While some expended their last drop of sweat pedalling a bicycle, others smiled coolly from behind their chilled cans of beer, on sale only for dollars
. . . .
In the midst of this maelstrom Conde tried in vain to find where he belonged. (p. 122)

In his review, Ramos also raises the age-old question involving art, mystery writing, and literature. He puts it in context of chicano literature. A corollary question might be why a chicano literature blog would devote two columns to a Cuban mystery writer--and hopefully three or more when readers send in their comments.

Because Adiós Hemingway has a lot to recommend it. As a story. As fiction from another culture. As an interesting set of characters you won’t find anywhere else. Ni modo it’s a Cubano telling it. Padura spins a darn good detective yarn. Obviously the Hemingway connection sets up sentimental familiarity that will hold a US reader in rapt attention, well disposed to the glimpses of every Cubano life that the ordinary reader will be blockaded from. But that’s another ni modo, because, as in the “is it literature” question, the national origin of the work is less important than its existence as a good read.

Conspiracy theorists and red-baiters will thrill to learn Adiós Hemingway is a subversive book. But more so to Cuba than the United States, whose culture looms so ominously in Conde’s everyday life. The good food, the good beer, the good stuff all come from places that deal in dollars. The young girls hitchhiking into town, to earn dollars. When Conde takes his buddies for a sentimental reunion at Cojimar, they remember the last time they’d been there. Their friend, now ten years expatriated, tonight sits somewhere across the strait thinking about them, staring in their direction just as they now stare hard into the darkness, remembering him. To a nation that refers to exiles as gusanos, the impossible long message in a bottle boils down to a simple truth; our friend, you left us behind. We forgive you. We love you, we’re still of one another.

Part of Conde’s trouble with the case rests in his youthful dalliance with the Hemingway style; it infected his own persona and theory of literature. Conde in some way became Hemingway, but a beatified version. In his view, the character of the story must necessarily be that of the writer. The youthful Conde wants to be the man who wrote “Big Two Hearted River”.

All comes crashing around the man as he learns Papa was a despicable person. Conde’s offended nationalism—Hemingway found local writers irrelevant--and writer’s ego clash with what the young Conde saw in the words. In the end, though, Conde forgives Hemingway but sets up a big ironic zinger to tweak the generic US. nose: Hemingway’s suicide was J. Edgar Hoover’s fault.

Bits & Pieces - Los Angeles Califas Art Event
Chicano: Pronouncing Diversity.
A Mental Menudo Forum / Art Exhibitioin.

September 9 - Nov 4, 2006
Opening reception Saturday, Sept 9, 3-7 p.m.
Curated by Magu.

This Chicano exhibit presents artworks that refer to a complex cultural diversity and to the Mental Menudo process of constructive dialogue among artists. Over forty emerging and established Chicano artists are included in this exhibition. The exhibition will be surrounded by a sound art installation.

Eagle Rock Center for the Arts
2225 Colorado Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90041

OK, that's it for the first week of September 2006. So who's read Adios Hemingway? Have we mined its riches? Does Padura write like Hemingway in some places? Good or bad Hemingway?

See you next week.



Manuel Ramos said...

Nice review, Michael. You know I liked the book. I thought Padura's prose really honed in on Conde's dilemma, plus the Hemingway trivia was an extra special. There is a tremendous amount of fiction coming out of or about Cuba in the last few years. Read a few of Padura's interviews online and you will get a feel for what it's like to write about Cuba, while living in Cuba. In any event, you added some depth to my understanding of this novel. Thank you. However, one thing -- I think you mean J. Edgar rather than Herbert.

Contributing Bloguistas: said...

"we'd like to thank you herbert hoover..." I musta be thinking of the musical Annie. Damn, I am getting old and showing it.


Fred Garber said...

I just finished reading "Adios Hemingway". I originally learned about it in the review by Manuel Ramos. I want to thank this blog for turning me on to it! Both reviews were great. I enjoyed the book and have now loaned to friend is a Hemingwayista of the first order. He has a white beard, has run with the bulls and even entered one of those Hemingway look-a-like contests down in Key West. I await his reaction to the book.