The Austin Chronicle

An Accidental Cuban

Joan Moran's up-to-the-minute page-turner exposes the dark and gritty side of Cuba with schemes full of treachery, double-dealing, and murder

Reviewed by Jay Trachtenberg, July 12, 2019, Arts

Those of you coming to this up-to-the-minute page-turner with romantic visions of a postrevolutionary Cuba replete with vintage automobiles and the sensuous rhythms of the Buena Vista Social Club as your soundtrack are in for a rude awakening. The Cuba depicted here is a gritty, stifling stew of poverty, frustration, and disheartenment – an environment where dreams are nipped in the bud, aided and abetted by an inept, dysfunctional government and corrupt officials.

Harry Cisneros longs for a better life. Tired of trying to support his family through petty hustling in the tourist trade, he wants to return to America, where he spent a few adolescent years with an uncle in New Jersey. What starts out as a financial scheme to simply exchange tourists' U.S. dollars for Cuban kooks vis-à-vis a fellow hustler in the ubiquitous underground economy all too quickly turns into much more. There's involvement with Russian mobsters; an international endeavor, seemingly via a French connection, to provide internet connectivity for all of Cuba; and a deceitful, enigmatic mastermind pulling the strings. "Trust no one" seems to be the mantra across the board as Cisneros juggles his complicated life circumstances among a cast of unseemly characters intent on treachery, double-dealing, extortion, and inevitably, murder.

Austin author Moran keeps the pace brisk, and her descriptions of the various locales on the island not only give the reader a palpable presence of place but also provide disturbing insight into the soul-sapping struggles of everyday Cubans. Does the somewhat open-ended finale mean we'll be hearing more from our protagonist in the future? Let's hope so.

An Accidental Cuban

by Joan Moran
314 pp., $24.95

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