Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Mayra Montero: Dancing to Almendra

Margaret Barno reviews Mayra Montero's Dancing to Almendra.
The “Almendra”, translated “almond”, is a slow-paced, sad Latin musical piece popular beginning in the 1950s throughout Central South America and Cuba. It’s rhythmic accents match well with the mambo, a dramatic, beautifully seductive dance.

This tempo is the background music of nightclubs, casinos and backdrop of this intriguing, multifaceted story of the under layers in Havana society in 1957.

Tensions, building among power brokers with links to organized crime figures locally and in the United States, were felt in unusual places: a circus and a zoo.

Lives of people, seemingly disconnected, would forever be entwined and affected.

Add an offbeat, frustrated young news reporter assigned to cover less than newsworthy events, sent to report the death of a hippopotamus at a local zoo, and the stage is set for a dramatic, pulsating novel that is as intense as it is intoxicating.

There is another significant factor, one that is usually somewhere in a book about people: love. When people break accepted mores, all is well. Stray into the territory of another, outside the unwritten “family” rules, and there can be deadly or at least memorable results designed to reinforce the consequences of going astray in affairs of the heart.

Edith Grossman, the 2006 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation winner, does an excellent job at capturing the bawdy language and atmosphere of Havana in the immediate era before the Cuban Revolution.
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