Excerpt from Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Havana Fever

By Leonardo Padura

Havana Fever
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  • Paperback: May 2009,
    285 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs

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Print Excerpt

“What do you think?”

Paralysed by the physical impact of his hunch, Conde didn’t hear Dionisio’s question.

“Well, what do you make of it?” the man persisted, standing in the Count’s field of vision.

“Simply fantastic,” he muttered finally, as his excitement led him to suspect he was most certainly in the presence of an extraordinary vein, one of those you’re always seeking and which you find once in a lifetime, if ever. Experience screamed to him that it must hold unimaginable surprises, for if only five per cent of those books turned out to have special worth, he was potentially looking at twenty or thirty bibliographical treasures, able on their own to kill – or at least fend off for a good while – the hunger now torturing the Ferreros and himself.

When he was sure he was fit to make another move, the Count went over to the shelf that was looking him in the eye and, without asking for permission, opened the glass doors. He reviewed at random some of the book spines, and spotted the ruddy leather jacket of Miró Argenter’s Chronicles of the War in Cuba, in the 1911 princes edition. After wiping the sweat from his hands, he took out the volume and found it was signed and dedicated by the warrior-writer “To my warm friend, my dear General Serafín Montes de Oca”. Next to Miró’s Chronicles lay the two imposing volumes of the much prized Alphabetical Index of Demises in the Cuban Liberation Army, by Major-General Carlos Roloff, from its rare 1901 single printing in Havana and, his hands shaking even more violently, Conde dared remove from the adjacent space the volumes of the Notes Towards the History of Letters and Public Education on the Island of Cuba, the classic by Antonio Bachiller y Morales, published in Havana between 1859 and 1861. Conde’s finger caressed even more lingeringly the lightweight spine of The Coffee Plantation, Domingo Malpica de la Barca’s novel, published by the Havana printers Los Niños Huérfanos in 1890, and the pleasantly muscular, soft leather covers of the five volumes of José Antonio Saco’s History of Slavery, in the 1936 edition from the Alfa printing house, until, like a man possessed, he fished out the next book. The spine was only engraved with the initials C.V., and opening it he felt his legs give way, for it really was a first edition of The Young Woman with the Golden Arrow, Cirilo Villaverde’s novel, in that first, mythical edition printed by the famous Oliva print shop, in 1842 . . .

Conde felt that space was like a sanctuary lost in time, and for the first time wondered whether he wasn’t committing an act of profanation. He gingerly returned each book to its respective place and inhaled the lovely scent emanating from the open bookcase. He took several deep breaths until he’d filled his lungs, and shut the doors only when he felt inebriated. He tried to hide his discomfort as he turned to the Ferreros, whose faces now burned with a flame of hope, that was determined to triumph over the only too conspicuous disasters life brings.

“Why do you want to sell these books?” he asked, against all his principles, already seeking out a path to the history of that exceptional library. Nobody consciously, so abruptly, got rid of treasure like that, (and he’d only glimpsed the first promising jewels), unless there was some other reason, apart from hunger, and the Count felt an urgent need to know what that might be. “It’s a long story and . . .” Dionisio hesitated for the first time since he’d encountered the Count, but immediately recovered an almost martial aplomb. “We still aren’t sure we want to sell. That will depend on the offer you make. There are lots of bandits in the antiques trade as you well know . . . The other day two paid us a visit. They wanted to buy our stained-glass windows and the cheeky bastards offered three hundred dollars for each . . . They think one is either mad or starving to death . . .”

Excerpted from Havana Fever by Leonardo Padura Copyright © 2009 by Leonardo Padura. Excerpted by permission of Bitter Lemon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher

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