Sunday, March 6, 2011
Azul:Bailame by Lee Benoit
A principal dancer with a Havana company, Lola misses his big chance to defect from post-Soviet Cuba because of an injury. Left behind by his faithless lover, Lola finds his health and attitude improving as he develops a friendship with his mysterious doctor, Adán.
Adán has a secret, though, one he's guarded from everyone since he returned from medical training in Mexico. If Adán's secret identity doesn't destroy their relationship, the vicissitudes of Lola's job might. When Lola gets the chance to dance again, will he choose Adán, or his career?
Once again, Lee Benoit has created a complete immersion in the locale with just a few details here and there. We are plunged into Communist Cuba, complete with conflicting loyalties, warm sun, an underground economy, and matters of the heart that have to be circumspect, because there are spies everywhere. Benoit impressed me with atmosphere in Smoke: Askari, and this is even better.
This story is all about the continuum of the human condition -- duality has no place here. If Lola is often a woman's name, it doesn't have to be, and if a man thinks he is only attracted to other men, or only to women, again, he doesn't have to be; he can be attracted to just the person, without asking for labels. The name alone serves as a signal -- did any reader here not hear "L-O-L-A, Lola" singing in your head?
Politics underlies this story -- life in a Communist regime, where dancers, the darlings of the State, can get medications that doctors cannot, is both harsh where one cannot safely finish a sentence or get enough condoms, and sweet enough to attract people who have choices.
Don't read this book for the bodies slapping together -- the sex is minimalist but joyous -- read it for the questions it will raise and partially answer, and the happiness it leaves in its wake. 4 marbles