by Achy Obejas
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To most outsiders, Havana is a tropical sin city: a Roman ruin of sex and noise, a parallel universe familiar but exotic, and embargoed enough to serve as a release valve for whatever desire or pulse has been repressed or denied. Habaneros know that this is neither new--long before Havana collapsed during the Revolution's Special Period, all the way back to colonial times, it had already been the destination of choice for foreigners who wanted to indulge in what was otherwise forbidden to them--nor particularly true.
In the real Havana--the lawless Havana that never appears in the postcards or tourist guides--the concept of sin has been banished by the urgency of need. And need--aching and hungry--inevitably turns the human heart darker, feral, and criminal. In this Havana, crime, though officially vanquished by revolutionary decree, is both wistfully quotidian and personally vicious.
In the stories of Havana Noir, current and former residents of the city--some international sensations such as Leonardo Padura, others exciting new voices like Yohamna Depestre--uncover crimes of violence and loveless sex, of mental cruelty and greed, of self-preservation and collective hysteria.
Achy Obejas is the award-winning author of Days of Awe, Memory Mambo, and We Came all the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in dozens of anthologies. A long-time contributor to the Chicago Tribune, she was part of the 2001 investigative team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for the series, "Gateway to Gridlock." Currently, she is the Sor Juana Writer-in-Residence at DePaul University in Chicago. She was born in Havana.??
Praise for Havana Noir:
Miami Herald, 11/25/07
Sewer-dwelling dwarves who run a black market. An engineer moonlighting as a beautician to make ends meet. Street toughs pondering existentialism. An aging aristocrat with an unsolvable dilemma. A Chinese boy bent on avenging his father's death.
These are the characters you will meet in this remarkable collection, the latest edition of an original noir series featuring stories set in a distinct neighborhood of a particular city. Throughout these 18 stories, current and former residents of Havana -- some well-known, some previously undiscovered -- deliver gritty tales of depravation, depravity, heroic perseverance, revolution and longing in a city mythical and widely misunderstood.
This is noir of a different shade and texture, shadowy and malevolent, to be sure, but desperate, too, heartbreakingly wounded, the stories linked more by the acrid pall of a failed but seemingly interminable experiment than by genre. Ambiguities abound, and ingenuity flourishes even as morality evaporates in the daily struggle for self-preservation.
In this dark light the best of these stories are also the most disturbing. What For, This Burden by Michel Encinosa Fu, a resident of Havana, is a brutal and wrenching tale of brothers involved in drug deals and child prostitution; they peddle their own sister. The Red Bridge, by Yoss, another Havana resident, depicts a violent incident in the lives of two friends with apparently great potential who, though acutely aware of the depravity of their situation, are powerless or unwilling to extract themselves from the mean streets of El Patio.
Cuban engineer Mariela Varona Roque's offering, The Orchid, is a short but powerful tale of the demise of a young boy frequently entrusted to the care of a browbeaten neighbor obsessed with his solitary orchid.
- Akashic Books, October 2007
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