José Latour was born in
Havana, Cuba, where he won his first literary prize aged thirteen.
Outcast is his seventh novel and his first written in English. He has
travelled extensively in the United States, Eastern and Western
Europe, Canada and Mexico, and is the vice president of the Latin
American division of the International Association of Crime Writers.
He has two sons and a daughter and lives with his wife and family in
One reviewer has hailed José Latour, author of Havana Best
Friends, as the King of Cuban Noir, but true to his roots
in Communist Cuba, José quickly shrugs off such reverence. I
am king of nothing, he says. I do not aspire to positions
in any hierarchy. What I aspire to is that most readers dont
feel Ive let them down when they reach the last page.
At the heart of Havana Best Friends are some very
unusual and dysfunctional relationships. Not least between the
brother and sister, Pablo the pornographer and Elena the special
needs teacher. They're such an unusual pair, divided by their
differences yet forced to live together because of the rigidity of
the housing situation in Cuba. Is Cuba full of people begrudgingly
sticking with situations because to do anything else is made so
difficult by the political and economic situation?
The housing problem is particularly critical in Cuba. The
population has doubled in forty years and the government has built
less than half the apartments needed for the new generation. For
many years strict zoning regulations prevented private individuals
from building their own houses. For these reasons, many young
people forced to keep living under the same roof with their
parents pine for their own home. Some experts argue that the
dearth of housing is one of the reasons for our high divorce rate.
In the last nine lines of page 89 and the first two of page 90,
Captain Trujillo reflects on this. And thats a fact, not
fiction. It would seem that political and economic hardships
considerably influence personal behaviour, which becomes social
behaviour when such misfortunes bear upon the majority of the
Elena comes across as the only truly good and moral person
in Havana Best Friends. Her naivety is glaring. Everybody
else seems to have obvious flaws and pretty much to have their own
selfish gain in the forefront of their minds. Was Elena a
benchmark for goodness? I notice you dedicate the book to special
needs teachers, who provide a "guiding light". I think
you have a soft spot for Elena. Am I right?
I have a soft spot for all special needs teachers. Noble,
self-sacrificing people are hard to find, but they coexist with
us. The problem is that they seem to be a tiny minority
everywhere. Which is a shame.
Carlos, the blind man running the diamond heist from New
York, seems to be something of a woman magnet. His wondrous
characteristics are espoused at length by Marina, and she isn't
the only one beguiled by him. Is their some significance in the
fact he is blind? You do hint at the idea that some of his
attraction lies in the woman's belief that she is not being judged
superficially on her looks alone.
Many years ago I met a blind man who was a lawyer and a
pianist. I was amazed by the fact that beautiful women fell head
over heels for him. I guess it had something to do with his
disability, perhaps because attractive females like to be
appreciated for other reasons beyond their looks, whereas many
heterosexual men seem to be more seduced by form than by
fundamentals when choosing their women. But he was quite handsome
too and played romantic music like an angel. There we were, single
guys twenty years younger than him, at the peak of our virility,
reasonably educated and with money in our pockets, unable to score
with the most gorgeous gals in the party because they were all
around the piano, vying for his attention. Carlos was modelled on
One reviewer called you the King of Cuban Noir. That sounds
like one hell of a compliment, but how does it fit with you and
your own ideas of where your writing should sit?
I appreciate the appellation, but I am king of nothing. I do
not aspire to positions in any hierarchy, neither cultural, nor
political, economic or social. What I aspire to is that most
readers dont feel that Ive let them down when they
reach the last page of a book I penned.
Someone reading this book might get the idea that drugs,
prostitutes and violence are rife in Cuba. Obviously this is all
the stuff of fantastic Noir writing, but what's the real Cuba for
The drug problem in Cuba is getting quite serious, crime is
worse than ever since 1960 and prostitution is gaining momentum.
The fact that some people abroad have an idyllic view of my
country stems from two realities. First, the government controls
the media and many years ago the decision was taken not to report
news that might jeopardise the notion that Cuban society is
perfect and that nobody has reasons to become addicted to drugs,
steal something or prostitute herself (or himself). Secondly,
nearly all visitors to Cuba classify in two broad categories:
those invited by the government and the tourists. Both are
insulated from reality in official acts, hotels, tourist resorts
and dollars-only stores; security is tight in all these places.
Nonetheless, I sincerely believe that if you compare Cuba
with other countries, our problems are less acute for several
reasons. One is vigilance and repression, another is education,
remittances from relatives living abroad allow a significant
percentage of the population to survive without having to steal or
peddle drugs or become prostitutes. There are other factors as
well, but a full review would demand too much space.
For me, the real Cuba is no different than, for example, the
real Great Britain is for the Britons, the real India is for the
Indians or the real Japan is for the Japanese. A majority of
decent, law-abiding, affectionate people and a minority of crooks,
bastards and s.o.bs. Luckily, everywhere is the same. No more, no
This is your second book written in the English language.
I'm sure you're a pro now, but was it difficult to adapt? Do you
prefer writing in Spanish or English?
Yes, it was difficult to adapt. And it still is. I learn
English on a daily basis, as I write, or read, or watch TV. Of
course, I prefer writing in Spanish, but its extremely
difficult for Hispanic writers to reach the international book
market writing in their mother tongue. Therefore, Ill keep
writing in English.
Are you working on a new book at the moment? Will it be set
Yes, Im working on a new book and it will be set
mostly in Cuba.
|© HarperCollins website 2002
|Jose Latour's latest novel HAVANA
BEST FRIENDS now available published by Harper Collins
read our review
by Philip Gooden in the Crime Report section