Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Havana Best Friends by José Latour

A review of José Latour's novel Havana Best Friends

Cuba, it seems, is the perfect location for a crime novel: Committees of "volunteers" are encouraged to spy on their neighbours, distrust is rife in everyday life, and there is a constant veneer that hides the truth. Havana Best Friends is José Latour's most recent novel, and he knows of what he speaks. He wrote several successful novels in his native land, winning his first award at the age of 13. Life changed when his fifth book was said to be counter-revolutionary and he became an enemy of the state. Dogged relentlessly by government agents, he left for Spain in 2002 and moved to Canada in 2004.

After he fell out of favour in Cuba, Latour began writing in English, debuting in 1999 with Outcast, nominated for an Edgar Award. He is one of those rare and wonderful beings: a true bilingual. Although occasional odd turns of phrase in Havana Best Friends hint at non-native speech, I was impressed by the novel's fluency of expression and nuance, qualities that are very hard to achieve in a second language.

This is the story of unlikely pairs. Elena and Pablo are estranged siblings who share a spacious apartment in Havana. Sean and Marina, a Canadian couple on holidays, befriend the Cuban brother and sister under what we will discover are false pretences. They have come to Cuba not as tourists, but at the request of their friend Carlos, to scout out a possible $10-million treasure in diamonds that Carlos's father supposedly left behind when the family fled the country after the dictator Batista was overthrown. Are the diamonds still in what is now Elena and Pablo's home? Will Sean and Marina make it out of the country with the loot? I leave that for you to discover.

You can find the full review here

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