Cold Havana Ground – Review

In U.S. schools during the 1970s and 1980s, students usually first heard of Cuba as they learned about the U.S.A.’s triumph during the Cuban Missile Crisis and skirted over the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion. Likewise social studies classes in the U.S. hardly ever covered the diversity of the Caribbean nations let alone that of Cuba.

Arnaldo Correa’s Cold Havana Ground (Akashic, 2003) opens Cuban society up to readers in this real-life mystery by using multiple character viewpoints to convey his story. Alavaro, a randy detective, reminds the reader that while Havana ground may be cold for the missing cadaver of Rafael Cuan, the scorching July heat makes this mystery hotter in more ways than one. Alvaro’s search for Cuan’s cadaver brings him into contact with a priestess of the Santéria religion who is referred to as “the Santera.” The Santera’s brother Lorenzo Bantú is a Nasakó, a priest who practices the Palo Monte religion and who is a leader in the Abakuá Secret Society as well. The three are tied together by the elusive and seductive Adrián, a master of human motives and a non-believer in any religion.

The three African religions play a decisive part in Adrián’s life and in Alvaro’s investigation often without their even being aware of it. Correa provides a glossary of the gods by religion at the book’s end. The African religions that Correa describes follow:

• Regla de Osha or Santéria with Yoruban roots in Western Africa
• Regla Mayombe or Palo Monte with Bantú origins in Central Africa
• Abakuá Secret Society based on a religious legend from the Calabar
River Basin(Cold Havana Ground, p. 312)

Cold Havana Ground illustrates how these religions blended with Catholicism through glimpses in rites and holidays and shows how practitioners of all three hold Chinese belief in awe.

Religion and politics both have their parts in Correa’s book. Set in 1993 during “The Special Period,” Cold Havana Ground shares with readers the impact of the Soviet Union’s demise on Cuba:

• Alvaro does his initial detective work on bicycle. When he
obtains a car, there’s a shortage of gasoline.
• It is hard to keep cars running, because there are no spare parts.
• Luxury products like rum are becoming scarce.
• The tourism industry is growing and gnaws away the ideals of
the Cuban Revolution.
• A food shortage exists.

While Correa’s Cold Havana Ground provides readers with a sophisticated mystery, its contribution to understanding Cuban society may be just as beguiling for the reader.

This Sunday, October 3, 2010 at noon EST (New York Time), Ruth Paget will be interviewing author J. Sydney Jones about his Viennese murder mystery series – The Empty Mirror and Requiem in Vienna.
This review was originally posted on Ruth Paget’s Belle Vie Reviews and More Blog