(Reviewed by Guy Savage MAR 7, 2009)
“She simply wanted to sleep with me, and it showed in her eyes. Why me? Maybe she had a little bet with her friends that she could get me. Good for her. Maybe she had a thing for my lunar. I should let myself enjoy this teenage girl, no?—a reformed or at least a reforming, sex worker who wanted nothing more than to entertain me up in my little crow’s nest above this Socialist island adrift. I knew that one way or another, if I let her get her hooks into me, all I would want is to press our bellies together—again and again.”
Author Robert Arellano’s novel Havana Lunar is set in 1992 during Cuba’s so-called Special Period. This severe economic crisis was sparked by the collapse of the Soviet Union and Comecon (The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) and caused Cuba’s economy to come to a grinding halt. This grim period resulted in drastic drops in the importation of food, medical supplies and oil to Cuba.
Havana Lunar’s protagonist is doctor Manolo Rodriguez. He lives in the attic of the house originally owned by his grandmother. During the Reforma Urbana, sections of the house were “reallocated” to other families, and now Manolo maintains a “community polyclinic” located in the basement three weekends a month. Blacklisted by the Cuban Communist Party, he also works in a dead-end job as a pediatrician, earning a pittance at a local hospital. After being paid, Manolo deliberates whether to spend his “weeks’ pay from the pediatrico on a liter of gasoline or on eight ounces of coffee.”
The novel begins with a break-in to Manolo’s basement clinic, and at first, Manolo assumes that the thief is searching for medical supplies. Manolo follows the intruder into a bar. Colonel Perez, the Chief Homicide Investigator of the PNR is waiting in the bar for the doctor. Perez buys him a drink, and then immediately begins questioning him about the death of vicious pimp Alejandro Martinez. Martinez’s headless corpse just surfaced in the Havana harbour.
Perez suspects Manolo knows more about the case--especially since Manolo has become more than friends with a teenage prostitute named Julia….
The novel’s chapters moves back and forth in time revealing slices of Manolo’s childhood (which left him literally scarred for life), his troubled relationships, and a nasty ex-wife. These nuggets of information regarding Manolo’s past are set against the seismic shifts occurring in Cuba’s history. As Manolo becomes increasingly involved with Julia, he slips into Cuba’s violent underworld—an ugly world full of brutal characters who want Julia back—no matter the cost.
This gritty Cuban noir novel contains plenty of local color, many Spanish terms and some Spanish dialogue and while this adds authenticity to the novel, it may also prove frustrating to the reader who knows no Spanish.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Fast Eddie, King of the Bees (2001)
- Don Dimaio of La Plata (2004)
- Havana Lunar (March 2009)
- Curse the Names (December 2011)
Published as Bobby Rabyd:
- Sunshine '69 (1996) (interactive book)
Published as Eddy Arellano (in collaboration)
- Dead in Desemboque: Historias de Amor y Sangre! (2008) (graphic novel)
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- Akashic Books interview with Robert Arellano
- Interactive site for Sunshine '69
- PIF Magazine review of Fast Eddie, King of the Bees
- Excerpt from Dead in Desemboque
- Racket Magazine review of Dead in Desemboque
- International Noir review of Havana Lunar
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About the Author:Robert Arellano was born in Summit, New Jersey in 1969. He is a Cuban-American; his parents fled Havana in 1960. As a student in Brown University's graduate writing program, he visited Cuba on a research fellowship and has returned ten times, chronicling the Revolution in journalism, essay, and song.
His stories enjoyed favorable attention from New York Times Book Review and Associated Press. In 1996, Sonicnet published Arellano's electronic book, Sunshine '69 under the name Bobby Rabyd. Arellano has lectured extensively on his groundbreaking work in hypertext and literary innovation. He offered the inaugural speech at the first Sundance Film Festival New Media Seminar and the keynote address at the 1999 European Cultural Capital Media Arts Symposium in Stockholm.
Arellano's essays on new directions in literature have been published in the User's Guide to the Millennium, edited by Julio Ortega, and online at Feed magazine.
As an indie musician, Arellano has performed with Will Oldham, Havanarama, and Nick Cave.
Arellano has taught writing and literature at Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and the University of New Mexico in Taos.
He currently lives in Dixon, New Mexico.