cover image Cuba and the Night

Cuba and the Night

Pico Iyer. Alfred A. Knopf, $22 (233pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44052-9

Steeped in the resonant, atmospheric imagery and canny sense of cultural dislocation that distinguish his travel writing, Iyer's (Falling Off the Map) first novel nevertheless succumbs to a slim and schematic plot. As recounted by a cool and callous American photographer named Richard, who has spent much of his life crisscrossing the globe, the story turns on a triangular, post-Cold War romance in Havana. Jet-setting to and from Havana on assignments from European magazines, Richard falls for Lourdes, a voluptuous, passionate, dark-complexioned Cuban native who is desperate to emigrate. Together Richard and Lourdes cruise the Cuban nightlife, seeking furtive places to make love and talk politics, shooting photographs and discussing the poetry of 19th-century nationalist hero Jose Marti. Richard refuses to divorce his wife but arranges for Lourdes to marry his acquaintance Hugo Cartwright, a prim and tweedy British schoolteacher, intending to rendezvous with her in England. Due in part to Richard's arrogance, however, the narrative fails to convey much emotional depth, and it comes as no surprise when his plans go disastrously awry. The novel is less a compelling tale than a vivid travelogue, evoking a country in cultural limbo, hopelessly isolated and destitute, its disaffected young populace relentlessly hustling for ways to escape. Author tour. (Apr.)