Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Review: Havana Lunar. Robert Arellano.

NY: Akashic Books, 2009.
ISBN: 978-1-933354-68-2

Michael Sedano

What a delight, after reading a string of uninvolving novels, to come across Robert Arellano's engaging "Cuban noir novel", Havana Lunar.

The Havana setting breathes life into this story of grisly murder and false accusation. The first person narrator is an idealistic medical doctor working in a neighborhood clinic. Lacking the most basic supplies like aspirin, the medico Rodriguez heals through bedside manner and decency.

Rodriguez' nobility is its own reward until a teenaged jinetera takes advantage of kindness to insinuate herself in his life. The novel opens with a detective surreptitiously searching the clinic for the sex worker's jacket. She's a suspect. 

Arellano keeps a smile on his fingers as he takes readers through a lively, twisting story that brings in the doctor's large tight-knit familia from a rural compound, the break-up of his marriage, his ongoing affair with a childhood friend, the ugly mole on his cheek that is the title of the book, the beheading of a local pimp and the doctor’s involvement with the teenie jinetera suspect.

Sexual tourism, inept social services, corrupt public servants, the loving familia, a portrait of Che Guevara that talks, give the novel enough color that the potential horror of the crime never infects the fun of the telling. 

Some of the fun is Arellano's, exercising his decided political slant against the revolution. The doctor regrets small privations like choosing between buying gas for the car or coffee for his cuppa, and he uses an old skeleton to evade enforced hitch hiker laws. But a children's clinic with no aspirin insults this deeply caring professional. The jineteras know he’s a doctor who does HIV tests on the QT, no government reports, and he takes no sex in return. Breaking his resistance is part of the whore's motive. The doc's a real sucker. The pimp's moves to get her back thrusts the doctor into captivity and torture, escape, a near-lethal confrontation with a crazed killer, and the corrupt policeman.

Contrast the city's constant struggle to the doctor's family compound out in the sticks on the local economy, liberated from the restraints of city bureaucrats. Granpa rules with iron fist, the women eat in the kitchen whether company comes or not. They laugh, eat well, all the kids are above average. This is the sentimental Cuba of shoulda woulda coulda land, but Arellano's point is well taken.

Arellano doesn't harp on the failures of Cuban socialism, not in a heavy-handed manner. Everyday ironies abound; a family learns that flour has come on sale. All gather excitedly around the table, real bread oven fresh! The food is ripped from their mouths. Rumors abound that saboteurs mixed glass into the flour. More irony, other rumors arise the government spread the rumors to suppress the black market for flour, they coulda eaten that bread.

As with so many other Cubano novels, the shortcomings of the revolution are well knit into the fabric of the story. Everyday details like enforced hitch hiking, or choosing between buying gas for the car or coffee for his cuppa, point up such novels like Havana Lunar can be told only in Cuba. Arellano's noir masterpiece belongs alongside Daniel Chavarria's Adiós Muchachos and Tango for a Torturerer.

Applause must go to Akashic and or Arellano for their common sense approach to English and Spanish expression. The languages are not italicized nor does Arellano offer much appositional translation. When a character says something in Spanish the expression stands on its own.

For slightly under 200 pages, Havana Lunar has lots to enjoy, everything a comic noir aficionado could hope for. Mejor, Havana Lunar need not be enjoyed in private; the publisher plans a coast-to-coast tour of readings, from March 24 at NYNY Bluestockings to May 8 at W. Hollywood's Book Soup. Many of the stops include Achy Obejas, signing her latest, Ruins.

Juan Felipe Herrera Poetry Collection Honored

The National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry, announced March 12, named Juan Felipe Herrera's Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems, along with August Kleinzahler's Sleeping It Off in Rapid City.

I note the publisher's and Herrera's support for Oracy, making this collection, hopefully, a trailblazer setting a standard for all published poetry: Beginning with early material from A Certain Man and moving through thirteen of his collections into new, previously unpublished work, this assemblage also includes an audio CD of the author reading twenty-four selected poems aloud.

Felicidades, Juan Felipe. You had it coming, ese.

Read Lisa Alvarado's La Bloga interview with Mr. Herrera here.

Poetry Collection Reviewed

La Bloga friend Rigoberto González expresses his joy at reading Kevin A. González' first poetry collection, Cultural Studies, noting the poet is "prodigal son, a creative writing degree in hand, come back to reconnect to the imagery of his youth". 

You'll enjoy the full review at the El Paso Times.

Nuyorican MTV Viewers Protest

Gente who partake of the plug-in drug have one more reason to abjure the device altogether. Consumers of what MTV has to offer find a recent episode so undigestible they've written a petition to have a program withdrawn and a new one produced to replace it. The group's petition links here.

We, the undersigned, call upon Viacom/MTV/MTV News to cease airing the episode entitled "True Life: I'm a Nuyorican" on the grounds that it is an unbalanced, negative stereotype affirming and unfair representation of who and what Nuyoricans are as a culture.

Furthermore, it is psychosocially damaging to youth and uncharacteristic of the values which MTV News claims to uphold.

Additionally, we call upon Viacom/MTV/MTV News to produce a new episode which represents the Nuyorican community accurately and references the Nuyorican Movement, this task is to be completed and aired by year's end.

Sandhill Crane Migration - A Wonder of the Natural World

Please enjoy a few fotos from a recent visit to Nebraska's Rowe Sanctuary on the Platte River: http://www.readraza.com/cranes/index.htm

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1 comment:

Linda Rodriguez said...

Loved your column, as usual. But the photo of the sandhill cranes is gorgeous! Great photography!