Thursday, March 5, 2009

BOOK: Dancing to Almendra by Mayra Montero

Dancing to Almendra by Mayra Montero, 263 pages
translated by Edith Grossman

Latin American Challenge; Orbis Terrarum: Cuba

Cuba before the Castro revolution must have been an exciting time: nightclubs and casinos, money and romance are all depicted in this novel by Cuban author Mayra Montero. A young reporter looks into the death of a hippopotamus at the zoo and discovers it was meant to be a message to a mobster who was killed in New York City. As Joaquin Porrata looks into the mob scene, he gets embroiled in the dark life and the novel takes off as a hard boiled mystery, which reminded me of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon or Chandler's The Big Sleep. Dames, mobs, film stars, double crosses, dead animals, corpses, guns, leprosy, and a circus. There's something here for everyone.

There is a second story going on, as Yolanda, Porrata's new love interest, tells her life story and a very interesting one it was. I didn't enjoy her part quite as much, in that it didn't move the story along but was a parallel story leading her up to the point in her life when she met Porrata.

Can't you just hear Sam Spade narrating this line?

Two Chinese girls were singing in the film, high Chinese tones that can't be heard by the human ear, but that night I discovered they could be heard in your bones, your eye sockets, that's where they resonate.

I like reading those film-noir, detective stories, but I always feel like I am missing something. I like the feel and atmosphere and the phrasing, but the characters are always doing what I never expect them to and I don't usually understand even what they have done. Fans of Hammett and Chandler would like this book. I know lots of people who go to Cuba every year for the spring break (Canadians are allowed to go there) and if I ever got to go, I would love to see Havana and imagine how it has changed from these glory days of the 1950s in this book.


  1. I've reread Chandler and Hammett recently with great pleasure, so I'll have to check this one out when I get a chance. Thanks for the tip!

  2. This sounds interesting. I don't read a lot of hard-boiled crime books but might have to check this one out. Great review!

  3. This sounds like a very interesting book. I've always been intrigued by the music that came out of Cuba during the 40s and 50s. Sounds like another title for my list of TBR!

  4. Sounds a rather bizarre storyline!

  5. I've just recently developed an affection for hard-boiled detective fiction, so I'm always glad to hear of some I wasn't aware of. I'll be looking for this; thanks.

  6. Sounds like a neat story! I've read a story that was partially set here during this time period and I really liked the brief glimpse.

  7. I've heard of this before, but for some reason I had thought it was more of a surreal story (maybe the hippo-part threw me off), so thank you for letting me know that it's a Noir book!! I can take it off my (already ginormous) wishlist. :)

    /Your fellow OT-er

  8. This sounds like great fun, thanks for your review.


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