Sunday, January 29, 2006

Crime fiction in Cuba

The genre has pushed its limits, both aesthetically and politically, in the Mario Conde series of Leonardo Padura, Cuba's best known and most popular crime writer. And it has also crossed the language barrier, with bilingual authors in and out of Cuba who pen their books in English and enjoy a broader market than writers who depend on the vicissitudes of translation.
In her 2004 book on Cuban and Mexican crime fiction, Crimes Against the State Crimes Against Persons (University of Minnesota Press, $19.95), Persephone Braham identifies the genre as neopoliciacos. The Spanish policiaco, like the French policier, is the name for what in English goes by "detective" fiction. The difference is telling. Where the English and American genre stresses the private investigator (Sherlock Holmes), Latin countries focus on the policeman (Inspector Maigret), reflecting societies that privilege the individual or the state, respectively. Of course, the attitudes converge in the figure of the maverick cop (Dirty Harry), an important anti-hero role model for societies like Cuba, and to some extent Mexico, that are or have been run by one-party governments intolerant of dissent.
Policiacos from the early years of the Cuban Revolution, according to Braham, were naively schematic, with the policía as the good revolutionary battling the dastardly plots of exiles and the CIA. But two forces pushed the genre in a different direction.

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