Friday, March 16, 2007

Review: Dancing to "Almendra" by Mayra Montero

In a time long, long ago before the nation state of the Bahamas captured American media attention due to one Anna Nicole Smith, another Caribbean country riveted our gaze: Cuba. Today Cuba boils down to the three C’s: cigars, Castro, and classic cars. In the 50s, as Mayra Montero suggests in her sixth novel, Dancing to "Almendra", Cuba’s national identity was intertwined with our own.

Cuban-born novelist Montero creates a delightful narrative of Havana in 1957. An entertainment reporter for the local rag, Joaquin Porrata, is assigned to cover the brutal slaughter of a hippo at the Havana Zoo. While covering this story, the zookeeper hints that the animal’s death was actually a message for Mafioso Umberto “Albert” Anastasia who was killed the same day in a New York barbershop. Porrata realizes that the hippocide could be an indicator of the turf war emerging between new restaurateurs, hoteliers, and casino operators in the plush and flush nation.
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