Our Woman in Havana


Say adios to the Socialist Revolution and hello to a new Cuba in the midst of its Special Period in the 1990s, when, after the fall of the Soviet Union, international business moguls call the shots. In Carlos Lopez’s flawless translation of Daniel Chavarría’s novel Adios Muchachos, you need new gimmicks to sell the same old product.

With “blackouts every night and daily bread rations down to a single roll per person,” what’s the protagonist—a middle-class Cuban beauty—to do to survive these hard times? She resolves to become a “whore, and that’s that!” Alicia finds a “heavy old Chinese bike on which she develop[s] her ‘lost pedal’ routine.” Thanks to a removable pedal linchpin, the accident always takes place “in front of some expensive car whose foreign driver has already been entranced by the rhythmic gyrations of that—oh, so maximus!—gluteus” as she pedals the streets of Havana in search of a john and possible future husband.

In her successful cycling efforts, Alicia manages to hook Canadian ex-con and entrepreneur Victor King, who, in turn, charms and seduces her. Victor, in an attempt to secure his future wealth, contracts Alicia to entertain his wife while he tends to business. Once their new scheme begins to pay off, Alicia dumps her bike for a new convertible that lets her experience a lush Cuba without “a cloud in the sky for as far as the eye [can] see.” When an unforeseen event promises to send Victor and Alicia back to the streets for money, they enter into a kidnapping partnership for their last joint attempt to score their millions.

As one tries to escape Cuba and the other tries to evade Interpol, their constant scheming forces a guarded dependence between them: “What does [Victor] mean by keeping me out of it? . . . Could he be trying to shift the blame for all this on me? Or to blackmail me? . . . Alicia just stood there, biting her lips and not letting on that she was preparing a counterattack.”

Through Alicia, Chavarría provides a peek at a Cuba in the throes of globalization during the devastating Special Period. Full of humor and wit, Chavarría turns this basic story of survival into an erotic, fast-paced thriller. Times are hard, but who said they had to be dull?

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