I’ve never done a post in English recommending a book in Spanish, so this is a first:
Last night I read in one sitting the most fascinating book I’ve come across in a long time. I found the book entirely by chance at the public library as I was coming out of a meeting.
Crazy as this sounds, as a reader I feel that sometimes books find me (and that’s a subject for another post).
This book found me.
Noel Silva-Ricardo’s Aventuras de: Un Taxista en La Habana (The adventures of: A cab driver in Havana) tells the misadventures of Joe, “el Chino” (“the Chinaman” since his grandfather was Chinese) and his 1950 Cadillac jerry-rigged with a Peking diesel engine, a sticky clutch, Russian Lada brakes and a truck battery that El Chino has placed in the Caddy’s trunk because that’s the place where the battery will fit.
El Chino is not a cab driver as we understand the term (one fare, one ride); he’s more of a jitney driver. In the chapter titled Parto en el carro (Childbirth in the car) he picks up two passengers, a laborer and a nurse, when all of a sudden a group of people jump in front of the car to make him stop – something El Chino was used to, since transportation is painfully scarce, like everything else. Two desperate men carry to the car a woman in the late stages of labor. (No, in free-health-care-paradise you can’t call 911 for an ambulance even if the baby’s about to hatch – there is no ambulance.) Much hilarity ensues, not the least of which was that, once the new family had arrived safely at the hospital, the laborer was still in the Caddy waiting patiently for El Chino to drive him to his destination.
The book will have you laughing as it breaks your heart. You are overwhelmed by the amount of human capital that goes wasted because all that people can do in the island prison is simply get by, and to simply get by one has to scrape and finagle for every rusty nail and breadcrumb. El Chino is simultaneously driver, mechanic, engineer, psychologist, go-getter, father, and friend to his fares. Silva-Ricardo, who based the book on his experience, is brilliant in that he loves his characters while you laugh out loud at the situations they endure.
Aventuras de: Un Taxista en La Habana is told with great affection and respect to its people.
I can’t recommend this book enough, and hope that one of my readers will find a translator and publisher. One day this will make a great movie, too.