PIG’S FOOT by Carlos Acosta

Book Quote:

“How can anyone who does not know their history truly know who they are.”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (DEC 29, 2013)

Oscar Kortico might be living in the slums of Havana now but the story he narrates is one of voluptuous plenty — populated by a vast array of colorful characters in a seemingly idyllic setting. “In the 1800s Pata de Puerco was just one small corner of a sweeping plain with a few scattered shacks between the Sierra Maestra mountains of Santiago de Cuba and the copper mines of El Cobre,” Kortico says, as he describes the Cuban village where his grandparents settled. Oscar has never actually been to Pata de Puerco (translated as Pig’s Foot) but instead relies on memories handed down over generations to paint a picture of the town and the events that eventually lead to his beaten down existence in a shantytown. Nostalgia invariably wears rose-colored glasses so it is that the small town with its slow pace of daily life casts a delightful shadow and creates a sense of longing — even if the events that transpired there were often riven by violence and vengeance.

The author Carlos Acosta, is a world-famous dancer, and in fact bears a great deal of resemblance to the polymath, Melecio, in the book, one of Oscar’s relatives. Acosta nimbly weaves threads of magic realism in his novel and the able translation makes the story come alive. The old-fashioned “once upon a time” narration dispenses with gimmicks (at least in the beginning) and makes for an arresting and page-turning read.

Acosta sets his story from the early 1800s and sprinkles peeks into the country’s history as he goes along. We get brief (very brief) glimpses into the war of independence in 1868; the USS Maine incident in Havana harbor (in 1898) all the way to more contemporary times. An occasional jab at Cuba’s political climate is thrown around: “An island the size of a sardine can’t govern itself, that one way or another it is dependent on the whale in order to thrive,” but Acosta doesn’t really stray too far from the script. Sometimes one wishes for a more intimate working of these political events into the story but perhaps Acosta’s point is precisely that political events often serve only as a backdrop against which the theater of life unfolds.

The end is intentionally ambiguous — one wonders whether it is meant to cast a shadow over the verity of the narrated events or to question the place of history in our lives. “My grandfather said I didn’t know what I was talking about, that for all its faults Cuba was much better today than it had been, that young people these days knew nothing about history and spent their lives complaining, not realizing how much worse things used to be,” Oscar says towards the end. It seems for all the talk of history, not much is easily remembered or its lessons at least, seem to be appropriately diluted, ready for easy consumption. It is perhaps true, Acosta seems to say in his compelling novel, that as Napoleon once said, history is but a set of lies people have agreed upon.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0 from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury USA (January 14, 2014)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
EXTRAS: Excerpt




December 29, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Cuba, Debut Novel, Latin American/Caribbean, World Lit

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