A PRIVATE HOUSE by Anthony Hyde (Penguin), 320 pages, $24 paper. Rating: NNNN
The title of Anthony Hyde's new book refers to Havana's casas particulares , homes that do double duty as hotels and restaurants for tourists. It also alludes to the tiny, secret space inside that each of us inhabits.
The Ottawa author rides the wave of Canadians' fascination with Cuba, a ruined beauty hanging onto its dignity, a place of creative scams to separate visitors from their convertible pesos.
It's a fabulous read - part travelogue, part thriller - that leads us through the white-hot, crumbling streets of Old Havana and the cool, spiked darkness of the labyrinthine back streets where Cubans live and dream.
Lorraine has come to Cuba to honour a promise made to a dying friend: to track down his Cuban lover, Almado, and give him $10,000. Flustered by the heat and abundant sensuality, and afraid of looking ridiculous, she starts to have panic attacks.
Mathilde, a French journalist, is there writing an article about the end of the revolution as seen through the eyes of Bailey, a Black Panther and wanted criminal living out the end of Castro's regime in exile.
The two women make unlikely friends, Lorraine older, anxious and a practising Anglican, Mathilde young, confident of her freedom and godless. Yet they form an instant bond, the younger woman looking out for the increasingly desperate Lorraine.
Events unfold around the provocative Bailey, whose comment "The future isn't over yet" will become the headline of Mathilde's story, and a cast of enigmatic locals including the very fishy Almado. It's all about the money, which in Cuba means everything and is worth nothing.
In the end, Lorraine does something quite surprising with the bequest, leaving its fate up to the gods, and settling accounts in her own house.