cover image Dancing to "Almendra"

Dancing to "Almendra"

Mayra Montero, . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24 (264pp) ISBN 978-0-374-10277-7

Montero's compelling latest (following Captain of the Sleepers ) is set in Mafia-dominated Cuba in 1957, before Castro took power but during his military campaign from the hillsides. It tells the story of young journalist Joaquín Porrata, who's investigating the murder of mob boss Umberto "Albert" Anastasia, who really was murdered in 1957. Joaquin is warned at every turn to stay away from the story, but he persists, traveling to New York and back, drawing a beating for his trouble. His hard-bitten voice alternates in the narrative with that of Yolanda, his one-armed mulatta lover, who provides a more magical realist take on the surreal Havana of the '50s. Period figures like Meyer Lansky and George Raft play pivotal roles in nicely imagined sequences about a city where charm and corruption were indivisible. But it's in the death of Joaquín's brother, Santiago, tortured and murdered by the dictator's enforcers, that the reality of the coming revolution is brought home, making it clear that much more than a gaudy city of casinos and nightclubs is at stake. Montero blends fact and fiction with narrative aplomb: as in Graham Greene, the drama of a nation disintegrating in crisis is made very personal. (Feb.)