Dirty Havana Trilogy

( 5 )

Overview

Banned in Cuba but celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, this picaresque novel in stories chronicles the misadventures of Pedro Juan, a former Cuban journalist living from hand to mouth in the squalor of contemporary Havana, half disgusted and half fascinated by the depths to which he has sunk. Like the lives of so many of his neighbors in the crumbling, once-elegant apartment houses that line Havana's waterfront, Pedro Juan's days and nights have been reduced by the so-called special times -- the ...

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Overview

Banned in Cuba but celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, this picaresque novel in stories chronicles the misadventures of Pedro Juan, a former Cuban journalist living from hand to mouth in the squalor of contemporary Havana, half disgusted and half fascinated by the depths to which he has sunk. Like the lives of so many of his neighbors in the crumbling, once-elegant apartment houses that line Havana's waterfront, Pedro Juan's days and nights have been reduced by the so-called special times -- the harsh recession that followed the Soviet Union's collapse -- to the struggle of surviving the daily grit through the escapist pursuit of sex. Pedro Juan scrapes by under the shadow of hunger -- all the while observing his lovers and friends, strangers on the street, and their suffering with an unsentimental, mocking, yet sympathetic eye.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Our Review
Anticommunist Manifesto
For the last four decades, Fidel Castro's communist Cuba has survived a harsh economic blockade. In 1993, Castro attempted economic reform by allowing Cubans to use U.S. dollars and begin their own business ventures -- "a huge messy free-for-all." This time of confused, low-rent capitalism is the backdrop for Pedro Juan Gutierrez's gritty, powerful, and atmospheric novel-in-stories, Dirty Havana Trilogy, translated from the original Spanish version by Natasha Wimmer.

Gutierrez, whose prose sings of grime and simple, hard-clay truths, much like the words of Junot Díaz, is a well-known member of the Latin American visual poetry movement and a magazine journalist living in Havana. Dirty Havana Trilogy is written from the semiautobiographical point of view of Pedro Juan, a 40-year-old sex-starved ex-radio journalist cobbling together an existence by selling everything from himself to drugs to whatever he can get his hands on. "Everything's worth something here," he writes.

Pedro Juan is an ex-radio journalist because in a "model" communist society nothing bad is acceptable news. Through his tormented lead character, Gutierrez provides a window into his reasons for writing such a crude book. "That's why I was disillusioned with journalism and why I started to write raw stories.... I write to jar people a little and force others to wake up and smell the shit.... That's how I terrorize cowards and mess with people who like to muzzle those of us who speak up.... My stories could run bare-assed out into the middle of the street, shouting, 'Freedom, freedom, freedom.'"

That said, be warned: Dirty Havana Trilogy is not for the faint of heart. It is raw, squarely confronting poverty, racism, violence, prostitution, and the lengths Cubans go to in order to secure the almighty buck. In one story, the man who lives across the hall from Pedro Juan, in the crumbling apartment building that serves as the focal point for much of the book, is busted by the cops for stealing human livers from the morgue and selling them on the streets as pork livers.

But survival isn't the only thing on the minds of Gutierrez's colorful characters. Oddly enough, it's the quest for release, for fits of pleasure, for some sliver of happiness no matter how warped the avenue may seem to the world outside Havana. And that quest is manifested in the hard-core sex that permeates the pages of the book. An orgasm is one of the few pleasures no one can be denied. As violent and nauseating as the sex -- and the life -- may seem on the surface, Gutierrez achieves the difficult task of lifting his characters from the muck, giving his Dirty Havana Trilogy an intellectual and emotional depth that far outweighs the carnal.

Near the end Gutierrez writes, "Born in the ruins, they just kept trying not to give up or let themselves be beaten so severely that at last they were forced to surrender. Anything was possible, everything allowed, except defeat." The book then becomes a manifesto, a well-wrought fight against literary persecution, a release the same as an orgasm, where the truth behind every dark corner, behind every door, must be told. Dirty Havana Trilogy comes from the same womb in which literature was born, a book that just may someday be held up beside those of the mighty dead.

Nelson Taylor is a freelance writer and author of the travel guide America Bizarro, published by St. Martin's Press.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The streetwise gutsiness of Bukowski and Miller pervades Cuban poet Guti rrez's raunchy, symbolic, semi-autobiographical debut novel of life in 1990s Havana. Although the title suggests a triptych, the work more closely resembles a mosaic of short stories bursting with vivid images of exhilaration, depravity, desire and isolation. Narrator Pedro Juan, middle-aged and fed up, has rejected his career as a journalist because "I always had to write as if stupid people were reading me." Resisting the mass exodus from Cuba of August 1994, Pedro Juan now wanders the streets of Havana like a footloose Bacchus, indulging himself with women, marijuana and rum. He survives through a series of menial jobs. His rooftop apartment in central Havana has a spectacular Caribbean view but is, like all dwellings in the decaying economy, frequently without water. Pedro Juan is imprisoned more than once for minor crimes; after one lengthy sentence, he returns home to discover that his lover has replaced him with another man. He eventually drifts back into the urban maelstrom. Prolific, explicit sex scenes reinforce the plight of the artist, and thus a society, limited to physical pleasures where life offers no intellectual or creative rewards. "It's been years since I expected anything, anything at all, of women, or of friends, or even of myself, of anyone." Guti rrez's talent lies in creating a macho, self-abusive protagonist who remains engagingly sympathetic. This searing, no-holds-barred portrait of modern Cuba, expertly translated by Wimmer into prose strong in the rhythms and vulgar beauty of the city, comes complete with a sexy jacket photo. It will attract readers who like their fiction down, dirty and literate. (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The "dirty" in the title refers as much to the sleazy squalor of the Cuban capital as to the salacious nature of this work, but any attempt to equate the latter with the former fails to ignite. When not working in a low-paying job, the picaresque narrator, who appears ubiquitously in all three sections, whiles away his time chasing women, smoking pot, and drinking rum. He is unlikable, unsympathetic, sexist, and racist. The secondary characters are wooden and underdeveloped. The sex scenes, of which there are many, are repetitive and tasteless, if not distasteful. The blotches of humor are too infrequent, and the narrator's occasional introspective musings are not substantial enough to redeem the overall quality of the book. Not recommended.--Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Anderson Tepper
Dirty Havan Trilogy is as raw a glimpse of Havan as you're likely to get without actually going down there in person...Trilogy is an unabashed vision of the worst of Havana, but it maintains a seductive rhythm of survival, desire and tragic beauty. Beneath its crassness, there's a melancholy that makes this novel remarkably enticing.
Time Out New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060006891
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2002
  • Edition description: First Ecco Paperback Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 689,841
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Pedro Juan Gutiérrez is the author of several published works of poetry. He lives in Havana, where he devotes himself to writing and painting.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



New Things in My Life



Early that morning, there was a pink postcard sticking out of my mailbox, from Mark Pawson in London. In big letters he had written, “June 5, 1993, some bastard stole the front wheel of my bicycle.” A year later, and that business was still bothering him. I thought about the little club near Mark's apartment, where every night Rodolfo would strip and do a sexy dance while I banged out weird tropical-improvisational music on bongo drums, shaking rattles, making guttural noises, trying anything else I could think of. We had fun, drank free beer, and got paid twenty-five pounds a night. Too bad it couldn't have lasted longer. But black dancers were a hot commodity, and Rodolfo left for Liverpool to teach modern dance. I was broke, and I stayed at Mark's until I got bored and came back.

Now I was training myself to take nothing seriously. A man's allowed to make lots of small mistakes, and there's nothing wrong with that. But if the mistakes are big ones and they weigh him down, his only solution is to stop taking himself seriously. It's the only way to avoid suffering -- suffering, prolonged, can be fatal.

I stuck the postcard up behind the door, put on a tape of Armstrong's “Snake Rag,” felt much better, and stopped thinking. I don't have to think while I'm listening to music. But jazz like this cheers me up too and makes me feel like dancing. I had a cup of tea for breakfast, took a shit, read some gay poems by Allen Ginsberg, and was amazed by “Sphincter” and “Personals ad.” I hope my good old asshole holds out. ButI couldn't be amazed for long, because two very young friends of mine showed up, wanting to know if I thought it would be a good idea to launch a raft from Cabo San Antonio heading for Cabo Catoche, or whether it would be better to take off north directly for Miami. Those were the days of the exodus, the summer of '94. The day before, a girlfriend had called me to say, “What'll we do now that all the men and kids are leaving? It's going to be hard.” Things weren't like that, exactly. Lots of people were staying, the ones who couldn't live anywhere else.

Well, I've done a little sailing on the Gulf and I know that way's a trap. Showing them the map, I convinced them not to try for Mexico. And I went down to see their big six-person raft. It was a flimsy thing made of wood and rope lashed to three airplane tires. They were planning to take a flashlight, compass, and flares. I bought some slices of melon, went over to my ex-wife's house. We're good friends now. We get along best that way. She wasn't home. I ate some melon and left the rest. I like to leave tracks. I put the leftover slices in the fridge and got out fast. I was happy in that house for two years. It's not good for me to be there by myself.

Margarita lives nearby. We hadn't seen each other in a while. When I got there, she was washing clothes and sweating. She was glad to see me and she went to take a shower. We had been lovers on the sly -- sorry, I have to call it something -- for almost twenty years, and when we get together, first we fuck and then we have a nice relaxed conversation. So I wouldn't let her shower. I stripped her and ran my tongue all over her. She did the same: she stripped me and ran her tongue all over me. I was covered in sweat, too, from all the biking and the sun. She was getting healthier, putting weight back on. She wasn't all skin and bones the way she used to be. Her buttocks were firm, round, and solid again, even though she was forty-six. Black women are like that. All fiber and muscle, hardly any fat, clean skin, no zits. I couldn't resist the temptation, and after playing with her for a little while, after she had already come three times, I eased myself into her ass, very slowly, greasing myself well with cunt juice. Little by little. Pushing in and pulling out and fondling her clit with my hand. She was in agony, but she couldn't get enough. She was biting the pillow, but she pushed her ass up, begging me to get all the way in. She's fantastic, that woman. No one gets off the way she does. We were linked like that for a long time. When I pulled out, I was all smeared in shit, and it disgusted her. Not me. I have a strong sense of the absurd, and it keeps me on guard against that kind of thing. Sex isn't for the squeamish. Sex is an exchange of fluids, saliva, breath and smells, urine, semen, shit, sweat, microbes, bacteria. Or there is no sex. If it's just tenderness and ethereal spirituality, then it can never be more than a sterile parody of the real act. Nothing. We took a shower, and then we were ready to have coffee and talk. She wanted me to go with her to El Rincón. She had to keep a vow she made to San Lázaro and she asked me to go with her the next day. Really, she asked so sweetly I said I would. That's what I love about Cuban women -- there must be other women like them too, in America, maybe, or Asia -- they're so sweet you can never say no when they ask you for something. It's not that way with European women. European women are so cold...

Dirty Havana Trilogy. Copyright © by Pedro Juan Gutierrez. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 9, 2011

    I never received it!!!

    According to my email from UPS it was left at my front door but I never got it.
    I sent a email to UPS about this but they never got back to me!
    J.T.Robinson

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  • Posted August 6, 2010

    Hands down, the best book I read in my lifetime.

    This book was amazing, the stories were gritty and real from the author who lived it. I read this book 3 times, and will gladly read it again. This book is a complitation of short stories of the writer's life in Cuba. It gives insight to the poverty that the people endure, but their heart is relentless. Stories involve sex, lust, poverty, witchcraft, and alot more. Mostly it shows how the people are just simply trying to get by in such an oppressive land. Loved, Loved, Loved this book and will highly recommend it to anyone and everyone. You will not be disappointed. Kudos to Pedro Juan for writing such an amazing novel, under such difficult circumstance. I will be purchasing more books from this writer.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2004

    Compellingly graphic and heart wrenching

    Gutierrez has drawn a picture of Castro's true Cuba: one of hunger, pain, disillusionment and lawlessness within a controlled society. Pedro Juan's novel is not for the faint hearted. You are drawn, and capitvated by the bowels of life in a communist country. You were drawn into the web and held captive. I could not put this novel down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2003

    Typically misunderstood genius

    Despite what the 'published' reviewers say, this is not an anti-communist treatise, nor is it a debased and underdeveloped character study. While presented as one man's experience as a Cuban in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union, it is a universally applicable portrayal of poverty in stricken times and the ends to which we all would go to eek out a little bit of happiness between the hours of misery. Naked, honest and definitely not for fans of 'empowering' fiction.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2003

    a great book in spite of what the Library Journal says

    i thoroughly enjoyed this book. disturbed me and opened my eyes to what life is like for the masses in Cuba. also sexy in a very dirty degerative way and nothing is held back.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Gritty symbolic look at Castro's Cuba

    Following the collapse of the silver spoon better known as the Soviet Union, Castro decided to ¿reform¿ the Cuban economy in the early nineties. However, the slight change in what a local can own and sell has little effect on the disenfranchised intellectual community. <P>As an idealistic youth, Pedro Juan expected to become a great writer, but by early 1993, he can no longer deal with journalist reports that treat everyone as if they are morons. He quits his day job and becomes a Communist entrepreneur selling anything and everything including his body. At time he crosses the economic legal line and lands in jail. As he becomes more depravingly self-centered, Pedro Juan seeks wine, women, and weed with no hope for more than a bleak decaying future even with the beautiful Caribbean just outside his reach. <P>DIRTY HAVANA TRILOGY is a gritty, at times deliberately written in poor taste, series of grimy vignettes loosely tied together through the main character. The story line is not for the faint of heart as Pedro Juan Gutierrez paints a grim, gray look at modern Cuban society. Readers will loathe and sympathize over the downward spiral of the antihero, who compensates from a lack of mental activities with many me-me physical pursuits. Bluntly, Pedro Juan is a racist, sexist person, who deserves no empathy, yet manages to garner plenty from the audience. This novel is quite graphic sexually. It is also a no holds look at a decaying society that Pedro Juan symbolizes in every way possible, spiraling into depravity. This well-written quasi-autobiography will either bring adoring fans to the author or condemnation for bad taste without counting how Fidel will react. <P>Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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