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Dancing to "Almendra": A Novel
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Dancing to "Almendra": A Novel

3.06  ·  Rating details ·  308 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
Havana, 1957. On the same day that the Mafia capo Umberto Anastasia is assassinated in a barber's chair in New York, a hippopotamus escapes from the Havana zoo and is shot and killed by its pursuers. Assigned to cover the zoo story, Joaquín Porrata, a young Cuban journalist, instead finds himself embroiled in the mysterious connections between the hippo's death and the mob ...more
ebook, 272 pages
Published May 15th 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 1st 2004)
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Nov 03, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
On the surface this is the perfect book for me as it is both historical fiction (taking place on the eve of the Cuban revolution) and a book about the Mafia. A young Cuban journalist, Joaquin Porrata, discovers that on the same day that a hippo was killed in the Havana zoo, a mafia leader, Anastasia, was assassinated in a barber shop in NYC. Nobody sees the connections between the two killings except for Joaquin and a poor zoo-hand. Joaquin starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together once h ...more
Karl H.
Aug 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Dancing to "Almendra" is a noir book set in pre-revolution Cuba with a one armed woman, a lion feeder who is a celebrity doppelganger, and a childhood best friend who is also a pimp. Based on the summary, the story sounds colorful and exciting- so why did it wind up being such a slog? There are a lot of pieces assembled and back stories that might be interesting if done right but it never really takes off. The problem is these stories never really add up to much or go anywhere. The plot kind of ...more
Robert Friedman
Jun 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
--From my 2007 review in The San Juan Star--

Let us return to those good old days in Havana, B.C. (Before Castro) when Meyer Lansky and the Mafia ran the hotels, fading movie stars like George Raft ran the casinos and hippos were let loose from the zoo to run in the streets before being "whacked" in a mob war. When shows at the famed Tropicana made Las Vegas extravaganzas pale by comparison. When the forces of Fulgencio Batista stuffed identity cards into the mouths of the tortured dead bodies of
Sep 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. At first, I was not certain whether a book about Cuba and the mafia would interest me, but there is so much more to the plot than meets the eye. The characters--a one-armed former circus performer, the gay leper she loves, the young journalist who gets mixed up with both them and the mafia--are so unique. And the world is so vivid and crazy that I couldn't put the book down and was sad when it ended and I had to. I'd definitely reccomend this book for those with an in ...more
Li Misol
Es un libro que se ubica en la Habana anterior a la revolución de Castro, en tiempo de mafiosos, casinos y trifulcas por el territorio.

Un joven periodista, Joaquín, empieza a involucrarse en ese mundo buscando desesperadamente salir de el asqueroso trabajo que le han asignado en la seccion de espectáculos del periodico. Joaquin busca un reportaje serio, y decide que su historia estara centrada en el reciente asesinato del mafioso Umberto Anastacia en Nueva York y las conecciones del suceso entr
Christopher Rex
May 07, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Weak. The theme sounded great (pre-Castro, mafia-infested Cuba). I didn't know the author, but the translator is "famous" (she translates for Mario Vargas Llosa) and the reviews were solid. Unfortunately, the book fails miserably. Though it doesn't win an Honorary Sebald-Austerlitz Award" for being total verbal shite, it is pretty much a slog. I finished it out of principle and the hope it would improve as it went on. It didn't. The characters were shallow and the story wasn't any bit mysterious ...more
Mar 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
I liked this book fine, but I have no basis for judging whether it is referencing real events or not (my knowledge of the Cuban mafia being what it is). Weirdly enough, I find that that is the reason I can't get more excited about it. It also seemed kind of scattered and frantic, but I think that it would've flowed better in the original Spanish. Thoroughly average reading experience, all around.
Alternating stories of a young journalist investigating the organized crime activity in gambling in 1950's Havana and the confessions of his girlfriend, a one-armed former circus performer. Strange and bloody tale and I found it hard to care about the characters, although the Cuban atmosphere was authentic and rich. You could almost hear the danzon music.
Peter Evans
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this as much as I enjoyed her short stories.. the opening lines here .. "On the same day Umberto Anastasia was killed in New York, a hippopotamus escaped from the zoo in Havana. I can explain the connection. No one else, only me, and the individual who looked after the lions." .. It is impossible not to read on, and I believe worth every hour spent devouring this novel.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Cubans and Gangster fans.
Glowing review on the front of the Times Book Review! Translated by Edith Grossman! I have to read this! Well, I did, and -- eh. Very flat, kind of dull.
Diasamidze Ayse
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Çok büyük bir keyifle okudum, yazarın ilk okuduğum romanı ve diğer eserlerini çok merak ediyorum. son on sayfada bitmese keşke diye diye sayfaları güç bela çevirdim...:)
Jan 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The plot, a well paced narrative, is set in Cuba during its golden years. Fulgencio Batista was the dictator and ruled with strong fist. The setting is 1957 and Fidel Castro had started the revolution in Sierra Maestra. A journalist is sent to cover the story of a hippopotamus that escaped from the zoo and was shot. The death of the hippo is connected to the death of mobster Umberto Anastasia. The journalist keeps investigating and comes accross information of the mobsters controling the gamblin ...more
Montero's book is set in Cuba just as the Revolutionaries start their successful campaign to (re)claim the country. It is a layered book with one layer focused on a gangster/mafia story (the setting of Cuba's casinos is perfect, obviously), a complicated love that has an intimate connection to a circus and magicians plus a layer (really a backdrop) of the horrors of violent revolution. And, yes, the zoo features, too. Having studied "literature in revolution," this book would qualify and does no ...more
Aug 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good, but not great. I really enjoyed the historical narrative focused on the activities of the mafia as it related to Cuba in the 50's prior to Fidel's uprising. That aspect was really interesting. Unfortunately the quirky characters just did not cut is as the messengers for that story and though they were the central plot they took away from what was such an interesting story. Maybe I set too high of expectations based on my love of Mafia stories or maybe this just proves that I do not love my ...more
Daniel Simmons
Dec 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Were I more well-versed in 1950s gangsterism I might have enjoyed this slim but interminable novel more -- real historical capos and desperados pop up with such frequency that it's nearly impossible to keep them all straight. I found the plot (which flits back and forth in time and between events in Cuba and New York) muddled, the characters hard to swallow (a one-armed carny falls in love with a gay leper?), and the pacing all over the place. There's a good story in here somewhere amid all the ...more
Nov 26, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Reading the reviews of the book and the back cover, I was really excited about it. It seemed like it was going to be a cross of "Devil in the White City" and "Dancing with Elephants". The more I read, the more I hoped the author would tie the main characters, historical references and the slaying of the hippo. Unfortunately, I never really got fully engaged with the character. Nor did I see the connection between the gangster's murder and the hipo's slaying, even after re-reading sections. I thi ...more
May 06, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Would recommend: Probably not

Good things about this book: beautiful language, immersive atmosphere, intriguing characters and back stories.

Bad things about this book: the ending, and how it was completely disappointing.

I rarely read mysteries, so maybe I'm just not keyed in to the genre, but I sort of expected to know what the heck happened at the end of the book. Did I miss something? After getting attached to the characters, I felt like I had been cheated by the fizzled-out ending.
Based on the NYTimes gushing review of this book, I thought I was going to love it. A novel about the mob in Cuba is basically the perfect premise for me. I don't know what happened though. The book never really got off the ground. The writing was fantastic, but the plot was a bit thin. I would still recommend this book, and I look forward to reading the author's other books, but I was probably expecting too much going in.
Feb 15, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The location: capitalist Cuba just before the revolution. The characters: a beautiful one-armed Carny, a gay leper, a runaway hippopotamus, a host of real life mobsters, and an ambitious young reporter trying to put the mystery together. Even with those elements, this book left me cold. It isn't bad, per se, it just doesn't have much of a thrust and the removed prose keeps the characters at an arms length. Too bad, this one should have been a real winner.
Feb 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
It’s hard to imagine how a story involving dead hippos, mobsters, one-armed molls and the Cuban Revolution could be slow moving, bur Mayra Montero managed to achieve just that with Dancing to Almendra. The plot is interesting, but the main character, Joaquin, was such a cypher that I never cared what happened to him and kept wishing that the author had focused more on other characters instead.
Sep 24, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007october
I should've liked this book.

The mob. A reporter with a one-armed girlfriend (from the circus, no less). The zoo's lion feeder (and some grisly details). A transvestite sister. Glamorous Cuba.

But somehow, it just didn't come together for me. It was well written and SHOULD have been interesting, but it never quite was. I didn't dislike it, per se. Just didn't like it, either.

Maybe something was lost in translation.
Betsy D
This book is quite well-written, but the subject matter didn't appeal to me greatly. It is about decadence and conflict in Cuba shortly before the revolution, focusing largely on gangsters who ran the casinos and the entertainers around them. Some very imaginative characters, well-drawn, as well as names I recognized--Lansky, Trafficante, George Raft, and more. a very good choice of book for some, I'm sure!
Jan 27, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting look at Cuba in the years just before Castro took over power. The writing style is interesting -- deceptively light coverage of the Mafia and revolutionary undercurrents. I'm not sure I fully appreciated the significance of all of each event, but reading the book has inspired me to do more research into Cuba's history.
Michael Krarup
Spændende og anderledes roman fra Cuba i 1957 om den unge journalst Joaquins, møde med mafia, opskæring af casinokrigens ofre til løvefoder - og ikke mindst hans forhold til den enarmede cirkusartist Yolanda, der parallelt beretter om sin mildest talt omtumlede livshistorie.
Interessant og velskrevet billede af flere "andre verdener" end dem, man normalt læser om.
At first, I was like how can a book about a one-armed woman, the mob, a hippotamus murder, and Cuba in the 1950's be so dull? But the ending really is ties everything together and resounds emotionally. It is a slow paced book. One to be read under a lazy ceiling fan in the summer while sipping tea. I did like it an awful lot.

3.5 stars, not 4 stars though.
Michael Krarup
Gedigent og velkomponeret stykke krimihåndværk fra Australien, selv om jeg ikke er helt så begejstret som de fleste anmeldere har været.
Det gælder om at have tungen lige i munden for at have styr på de involverede personer - og flere af dem bliver ikke rigtig fulgt helt til dørs. Temple vil næsten lidt for meget i bogen, men en fortsættelse kunne sætte skik på nogle af de løse ender.
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Another book I checked out for my Latin American literature kick, but I was pretty disappointed with it. I guess I should stick to Gabriel Garcia Marquez! Not that it would be fair to compare the two...
Dec 30, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd actually give this 3.75 stars if I could. Beautiful writing and intriguing story (Meyer Lansky in Cuba, but ultimately a little unsatisfying. Gorgeous sentences, though, in this excellent translation and a bizarre and fascinating cast of characters. I'm eager to read her other work.
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Frīkaini brutāls gabals par mafijas apakšslāni Kubā pirms revolūcijas ar vienrokainām cirka dāmām, līķu barošanu lauvām un pārdomām par pagātnes rēgiem. Prasījās drusku fokusētāks stāstījums, bet tad droši vien būtu zudusi tā neparedzamības sajūta.
Dec 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun, quick read, but it falls a bit short of being a great book. Reads more like a screenplay, really - I can see it making a great movie. Her writing is very vivid and evocative, but her characters felt a bit unfinished, and the plot was a bit muddled.
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Well-known Cuban-Puerto Rican author and columnist.
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