A review of Cabrera Infante’s ‘Three Trapped Tigers’
In Old Havana, A Story Of Sunlight And Mystery
Pablo Medina is the author of Cubop City Blues.
"Showtime! Senoras y senores. Ladies and Gentlemen. And a very good evening to you all, ladies and gentlemen. Muy buenas noches, damas y caballeros. Tropicana! The MOST fabulous nightclub in the world — el cabaret MAS fabuloso del mundo — presents — presenta — its latest show — su nuevo espectaculo ..."
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the opening of Tres Tristes Tigres, a novel about 1950s Havana by the Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante. I first read it in 1968 in a Spanish edition. To say I read it quickly is an understatement. I devoured it and then flipped back to the beginning and read it again. Years later, I read the book in English. Its title was Three Trapped Tigers.
I'd left Havana when I was 12. After the initial excitement of landing in New York, I fell into a miserable nostalgia for a past that would never be again. Gone were the tropical gardens and blue skies, the labyrinth of streets and arcades, the allure of those soft, silky nights that I'd barely had the chance to experience. Over the years, 1950s Havana has been stereotyped as a sinful city, where tourists came to lose their money, drink good rum and have their sexual fantasies satisfied. But the Havana I experienced was physically beautiful — filled with sunlight and mystery. Three Trapped Tigers was the book I needed to show me that, if the past could not be recovered, it could be invoked through books.
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