Dirty Havana Trilogy, by Pedro Juan Gutiérrez
Reviewer’s opinions on this novel are divided into two camps; those who think it is “an intellectual and deeply introspective piece, full of passion and honesty” and those who loathe it as a piece of “bland sensationalism”. That the novel is exceptionally full of sex and dirt (in all senses of the word), everyone agrees.
Pedro Juan, a forty five year old living in Cuba under Castro during the ’90s narrates a series of short stories that introduce the streets and the people of Havana. Life is tough; mostly, there is nothing to do, except drink rum, smoke cigars, have sex (preferably with as many different women as possible in as many different ways as possible) and try to earn a few pesos by engaging in any one of a number of illegal activities while avoiding the police.
Pedro Juan is an intriguing character; he paints a vivid picture of Havana in the ’90s, and despite finding many of his attitudes and observations of people crude and vulgar, I couldn’t help liking him and even respecting his attitude to life. Cuba has been through some tough times and the people have taken the brunt of it all, but their way of living is just to get on with it as best they can, and not waste time complaining about their situations. I’ll admit, when I first began reading the novel, I felt quite uncomfortable with the explicit way the narrator deals with sex (and, less frequently, death) but once I settled into it and became more familiar with the narrator, I became more appreciative of the context of the novel and precisely what life in Havana actually meant for the Cubans.
I know it is cheeky and lazy to do what I’m about to do, but somebody called James Ferguson has written a fantastic review here if anyone is interested. Dirty Havana Trilogy wouldn’t usually be my cup of tea, but since it wasn’t pessimistic and managed to challenge my perceptions and prejudices I enjoyed reading it. Definitely the most controversial (and dirty) thing I’ve read in a while!