Alfredo Jose Estrada,
Welcome to Havana,
Senor Hemingway

(Vista, 2004)

Alfredo Jose Estrada pays a writer's homage to Ernest Hemingway in Welcome to Havana, Senor Hemingway.

Estrada's story is a lively one with real-life characters like the dictator Machado, the dissidents, the aristocrats of Havana, the smugglers and Ernesto, the American. He reveals the difficult, but always interesting, writer in his halcyon days in Cuba. Estrada steps back from his story and observes, like the journalist he is in real life. His style is impeccable, but it is controlled by the flamboyance of his characters. Some of Hemingway's fishing experiences will rise to the surface years hence when he writes The Old Man & the Sea. He has the knack of using everything sooner or later.

Estrada will use his experiences, as well, for Angula is based on his grandfather. In the novel, Javier Lopez Angula, a recent Harvard graduate, returns from the frozen north of Massachusetts to Cuba, the home of his wealthy family. His father, a staid and proper businessman, expects his son to carry on the export-import business that links Cuba to Spain and provides the family's livelihood and good name. Javier has other ideas after he meets Hemingway and imagines a new future. Paris calls to him with the old siren song to young writers. Javier's father did not send his son to Harvard to write in a garret in Paris.

A lively sense of "you are there" pervades Estrada's novel. Witty, pungent conversations (as terse as the ones in Hemingway's writing) move the plot along. Estrada, a master of understatement and good manners, is a joy to read. The 1930s of Cuba are fascinating and somewhat scandalous in their excesses. He serves them up on a platter as the backdrop for fiction that is alluring and stylish. I would read another Estrada book in a heartbeat.

- Rambles
written by Jean Marchand
published 26 March 2005

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