Review of Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's Dirty Havana Trilogy
Gutiérrez can make the fabric of the city come alive in these passages; the ramshackle rooming houses become characters in their own right; the elevator in Pedro Juan's apartment building is, thus, like a 'senile old man, it moves down very slowly, shivering and snorting, as if it no longer had the strength for so much work'. When this book was published in America, Gutiérrez was compared, perhaps for intent as much as execution, to other like-minded liberators such as Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski. Though he shares their amorality, his writing lacks the edge of their invention.
Given the context, this was no doubt a brave book to have written, possibly even an 'important' one (certainly, a self-important one). Still, for this reader it was hard not to concur with Pedro Juan's 'faggot friend', Aurelio, when, early on, he tells him he's 'sick of watching you pretend to be so macho'. And then there are still 300 pages to go.
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Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutiérrez was born in 1950 in Matanzas, a small town north of Havana. He alternated his job as a newsvendor with that of ice-cream seller; he then was a sapper soldier, kayak and swimming instructor and also sugar cane cutter and farm labourer. In his thirties, he was a building engineer and a drawing teacher, and also dealt with radio and television as assistant director and documentary author. He graduated in journalism at the University of Havana and he also worked as TV presenter. He is currently a professor in Havana and is very well known as a sculptor and visual-experimental poet. He does not turn down the opportunity to act and entertain on the radio and TV. He loves traveling and obviously writing. In his homeland, he is known as a poet and sculptor, rather than as a story teller, because his novels are banned.