Changó’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes

William Kennedy. Viking, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-670-02297-7
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Pulitzer Prize–winner Kennedy continues to chronicle his native Albany, N.Y., after a detour through Cuba, in his bracing new novel (after Roscoe). American journalist Daniel Quinn is in 1950s Havana reporting the revolution. In the Floridita bar, Ernest Hemingway introduces him to 23-year-old Cuban socialite Renata Otero, and Quinn is bewitched at first sight. An assassination attempt on Batista led by a group of revolutionaries that includes Renata’s lover lands her in hot water, but Quinn’s connections—both political and revolutionary—open doors for Renata that set her free and lead Quinn to Fidel’s secret Sierra Maestra camp. These heady days of revolution inform the novel’s second turbulent period—1968—and find Quinn back in Albany covering the machinations of the Democratic steamroller that is slowly crushing the capital’s largely black urban poor. Robert Kennedy has just been shot, and in the course of that day Quinn receives unexpected visitors from his past and documents the racial tension boiling over in Albany. Kennedy’s journalistic training is manifest in a clear, sure voice that swiftly guides the reader through a rich, multilayered, refreshingly old-school narrative. Thick with backroom deal making and sharp commentary on corruption, Kennedy’s novel describes a world he clearly knows, and through plenty of action, careful historical detail, and larger-than-life characters, he brilliantly brings it to life. (Oct. 3)
Reviewed on: 08/22/2011
Release date: 09/01/2011
Genre: Fiction
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