Thursday, 30 September 2010

Two very different Cuban novels

Our GG in Havana: Pedro Juan Gutierrez

I found this slim novel on a second hand book stall and was intrigued by the title, so I looked up the author. Pedro Juan Gutierrez is one of the few contemporary Cuban authors to be published in England, by Faber and Faber, so he has a good international profile and writes, as you’d expect, very well indeed. This novel is a fiction about fiction - the GG of the title being Graham Greene whose work I’ve always loved. ‘Our Man in Havana’ was one of my favourite novels. The book explores the background to the story and puts forward a playful (if rather grisly) theory about how GG might have come by the plot.

I never had the chance to experience Havana in all its pre-Castro decadence, but the sex clubs (and transvestite prostitutes) and mafia controlled casinos are graphically described by Gutierrez. The novel gives an insight into what was happening before Castro took over, the conflict between communists, fascists and the mafia for control of Cuba under the corrupt Battista regime. The plot is an intriguing conceit (though I wasn’t convinced by it!) and quite enjoyable to read. Pedro Juan Gutierrez seems to be an interesting author though, and I might now go and read his ‘Dirty Havana’ trilogy.

Now for a very different novel, independently published, and written by someone with an outsider’s view of Cuba. Havana Harvest is a fast-paced thriller, rather in the manner of Dan Brown, set in a more modern Havana.

It’s 1989. The CIA are running a drug operation between Colombia, Cuba and Miami, with the object of discrediting the Castro regime. Members of Castro’s government think that they themselves are running the operation as part of their strategy to undermine the moral reputation of the USA. A whistle blower, loyal to revolutionary principles, threatens to jeopardise the operation for both sides. Enter Robert Lonsdale, CIA agent, licensed to kill, who finds himself being used by his political masters for their own purposes. Based on a real episode in Cuban history, it’s sometimes hard to know when the facts end and the fictions begin.
Robert Landori is good on the Cuban setting and he paces the action very well. He’s very good on the corrupt money laundering aspects of shady government operations. He also seems to share a good deal of history with his fictional hero - both were born in Hungary and both have a background in international finance and the invisible services.
The book is published by the Greenleaf Book Group/Emerald Book Company in America. This serves ‘Independent Authors’, both publishing, publicising and distributing their work. Their online CV is impressive and certainly one of the best of the so-called ‘self-publishing’ outfits. They certainly work at the marketing aspect and they claim to also exercise a filtering policy on the mss that they accept. ‘Independent’ publishing seems to be the way to go these days for a lot of authors. Certainly Robert Landori’s book is in the same league as many commercially produced thrillers that I’ve read - some of them very much hyped. I wish him good luck.

1 comment:

  1. Love Graham Greene so I might give the first one a go.

    It's really interesting to see independent fiction publishers growing and I'd love to know more about them. I imagine their standards have to be over the bar high to gain any kind of critical respect and reader trust, so some of them must be working exceedingly hard. I wonder what draws those in the publishing industry into ventures like Greenleaf.