Most helpful positive review
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 November 2013
Following on from his international ballet dancing fame, film debut and autobiography, Carlos Acosta has expanded his repertoire by writing his first novel. The narrator is Oscar Mandinga. He recalls his grandfather's words, 'No man knows who he is until he knows his past, the history of his country'. Oscar is alone in the world, the last of his line. He wears an amulet around his neck the name of which is pig's foot. Oscar sets out to find his ancestral home, a small village in the south-eastern corner of Cuba called Pata de Puerco which means Pig's Foot in Spanish. It consists of a collection of shacks smelling of coal and paraffin, surrounded by mud, mountains and mines. It is here he begins to learn the descent of his family, their activities, secrets and later indignities. He relates these within the context of the turbulent history of Cuba, tracing four generations of one family, effectively from the 1800's to modern day.
Acosta, through his protagonist narrator, takes on this difficult task with vivid descriptions of the village life of his ancestors, with graphically depicted violence and tragedy, in terms that at times seem exaggerated and passed down as folklore. His family later moved to Havana. This is incorporated with his genuine concern for Cuba's socio-political history; slavery, wars, independence, dictators and revolutions. Acosta writes with dramatic, fast-moving prose that can at times be beautiful, particularly when describing the Cuban landscape or the people he meets during his quest. There are some passages that seem inconsistent or out of place for the times (usually amusing), but overall this is a fascinating, imaginative debut novel, full of well-drawn characters, that takes the reader through Oscar's tale in search of the truth. It is open to interpretation how much of this comes out in the story. Acosta's talent and enthusiasm for writing are sometimes breath-taking, always interesting and full of promise of things to come. Enjoyable. Translation by Frank Wynne.