Gutiérrez, Pedro Juan 1950–
GUTIÉRREZ, Pedro Juan 1950–
Born 1950, in Mantanzas, Cuba. Education: University of Havana.
Writer, journalist, artist, and educator. Professor in Havana, Cuba. Previously worked as swimming and kayak instructor, agricultural worker, technician in construction, technical designer, and radio and television presenter. Military service: Served in the military.
Spanish Prize Alfonso Garcia-Ramos, 2000, for Tropical Animal; Italian prize Narrativa Sur del Mundo, for Carne de perro.
Espléndidos peces plateados, Nueva Géneration (Buenos Aires, Argentina), 1996
Nada que hacer, Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1998.
Trilogía sucia de la Habana (novel), Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1998, translation by Natasha Wimmer published as Dirty Havana Trilogy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Sabor a mí, Editorial Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1998.
El rey de la Habana, Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1999.
Animal tropical (novel), Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 2000, translation by Peter Lownds published as Tropical Animal, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2005.
Melancolía de los leones (short stories; title means "Melancholy of Lions"), Ediciones Unioón (Havana, Cuba), 2000.
El insaciable hombre aña (novel), Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 2002, translation by John King published as The Insatiable Spider Man, Faber and Faber (London, England), 2005.
Carne de perro (title means "Dog Meat"), Editorial Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 2003.
Nuestro GG en La Habana, Editorial Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 2004.
Contributor to the book Cuentos sin visado: antología cubano-mexicana, Lectorum (Mexico), 2002.
Dirty Havana Trilogy, Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutiérrez's debut novel, is set in the "special period" that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of its huge subsidies to the Cuban government. The regime was left in shambles: there were dramatic shortages of all the basic necessities; food, drinking water, medicine, and decent housing were almost nonexistent. What drives the book and its characters is the day-to-day grind of survival, by any means at all, and enough sex to forget the despair of it all. "I was getting used to lots of new things in my life," the novel's protagonist, Pedro, says, "getting used to poverty, to taking things in stride. I was training to be less ambitious, because if I didn't, I wouldn't make it." It has been fifty years since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution, and the only maxim left standing is "you can't let down your guard."
Gutiérrez's alter ego in this frankly autobiographical novel is a down-and-out dropout living in downtown Havana. He was once a radio journalist with a wife and kids who wrote propaganda for the government. After going from odd job to odder job, including a stint distributing human livers to restaurants (he is told they are pigs' livers), he lives the hustler's life. He lives on the roof of a dilapidated building on the Malecon and cruises for the European sex tourists who are arriving in droves. "It's been years since I expected anything, anything at all, of women, or of friends, or even myself, of anyone," Pedro says.
In the background is the continuing clandestine exodus to Miami of thousands of potential refugees, who set themselves adrift in the Straits of Florida hoping to make it on rafts of truck tires, oil drums and palm trunks. They leave the island, and no one knows for certain if they make it or not.
Gutiérrez writes in a brutally honest style, in the tradition of Jean Genet, Charles Bukowski and Henry Miller. The despair he sees around him is somehow transformed into a primal joy of living. The theme of the book is moral, as well as physical, survival. Like Miller and Genet, Gutiérrez explores these larger issues of morality, religion and government through sex. As Karl Taro Greenfeld wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "What Gutiérrez, who lives in Havana, shares with that gritty crowd is the ability to evoke sensory experience in his prose and to use the immediacy of that description to make sense of a world that simply doesn't make sense. What motivates a man in an imploding society like 1990's Cuba? The promise of good sex, Gutiérrez knows, will keep a man going far longer than a regular paycheck or a balanced diet."
Despite the vitality of the sex and the exotic setting of decaying Havana, Dirty Havana Trilogy is a sad book full of characters at the ends of their ropes. As Roger Kaplan commented in the National Review: "It does not say everything, or perhaps not even most things, about Cuba today. But it is probably the most honest depiction of life under Castro to have emerged in recent years."
In his novel Tropical Animal, published in Spanish as Animal tropical, Gutiérrez's protagonist is once again Pedro Juan. Pedro now finds himself in Switzerland conducting a seminar in literature and seducing the seminar's prim coordinator. However, when he returns to Cuba, he faces his jealous mistress, the mullata prostitute Gloria. Writing in the Library Journal, Jack Shreve noted the author's "spare, masculine style." APublishers Weekly contributor wrote: "A colorful mix of Fellini and Bergman, Gutiérrez's atmospheric novel deftly mixes the rude with the refined."
Gutiérrez once again focuses on the seamy side of Cuba with his interlinked story collection making up the novel titled The Insatiable Spider Man. The narrator, once again Pedro Juan, recounts his life in a series of stories, beginning with tales of his girlfriend Silvia's rape, their parting, and his subsequent ten years of debauchery. Many years later, Pedro Juan is married to Julia but still dealing with the difficulties of living in Cuba, such as the lack of food. Now a writer and painter, he comes into contact with many of the country's poor and misfits as he searches the streets looking for sexual encounters. "With a hedonistic nihilism that makes Henry Miller and Charles Bukowski look like starry-eyed teenagers, Gutiérrez strives to stare unblinkingly into the abyss," wrote a Kirkus Reviews contributor. Writing in Booklist, Brendan Driscoll commented that the "novel … exudes a fresh honesty and hints that Gutiérrez may be trying to find new literary horizons."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gutiérrez, Pedro Juan, Trilogía sucia de la Habana, Anagrama (Barcelona, Spain), 1998, translation by Natasha Wimmer published as Dirty Havana Trilogy, Farrar, Straus & Giroux (New York, NY), 2001.
Booklist, January 1, 2005, Brendan Driscoll, review of Tropical Animal, p. 816; February 1, 2006, Brendan Driscoll, review of The Insatiable Spider Man, p. 29.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), April 28, 2001, Andrew Biswell, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy.
Guardian (London, England), April 14, 2001, Jonathan Glancey, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy, p. 10.
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 2005, review of The Insatiable Spider Man, p. 1292.
Library Journal, November 1, 2000, Lawrence Olszewski, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy, p. 133; January 1, 2005, Jack Shreve, review of Tropical Animal, p. 97; March 15, 2006, Lawrence Olszewski, review of The Insatiable Spider Man, p. 63.
National Review, April 30, 2001, Roger Kaplan, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy.
New York Times, February 5, 2001, Richard Bernstein, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy, p. E7.
New York Times Book Review, March 25, 2001, Karl Taro Greenfeld, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy, p. 13.
Publishers Weekly, October 16, 2000, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy, p. 46; January 3, 2005, review of Tropical Animal, p. 35.
BookBrowser,http://bookbrowser.com/ (December 2, 2001), Harriet Klausner, review of Dirty Havana Trilogy. *