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Friday, 5 April 2013

Review: Outcast, Jose Latour (Cuba)

Title: Outcast
Author: José Latour
Publication: 2007/Toronto: McClelland& Stewart
Original Publication: 1999/USA: Akashic Books
eISBN #: 978-1-55199-198-6
# of pages: 246
Discovered at Mysteries in a Foreign Land Mysteries in a Foreign Land
Read in e-book format from the library
Also available in paper format
Link to author’s website:
In 1994, Elliot Steil - Elio to his friends - is a relatively satisfied 44 year old English teacher at the Polytechnic Institute in Havana. Having a Cuban mother and an American father has meant that life has not always been easy and in many ways, this has made him an outcast. So far though, he really hasn’t wanted to leave Cuba, he just wants his blacklisting to stop. He likes his homeland, he has friends like Sobeida who gets him cakes on the black market, an ex-wife with whom he is on satisfactory terms, and a girlfriend whose company he enjoys.
Everything changes the day an Americano called Dan Gastler comes looking for him. He says he is a private investigator and friend of Bob, his long departed father. Bob recently died and in his last days, begged his friend to find his wife and son and smuggle them out of Cuba.

Elio is about to become an outcast yet again and the events leading up to this will start him off on a year long search for answers and revenge.

This is a rather unusual mystery because it is not really about missing persons or dead bodies but about unanswered questions. The more Elio pursues the answers, the more questions arise. This approach was quite intriguing. The story also provides interesting insight into everyday Cuban life: city blackout timetables, using Coke cans as water glasses because the stores don’t have any, watching American television on a Russian TV set via pirated Cuban signals. Here is a 1990s adult who has never held a credit card in his hands. It also provides an interesting insight into the lives of Cuban rafters in Florida. Worth reading both for the mystery and the glimpse at Cuba.     (°_°)

The author has also led an interesting life. Originally a supporter of the Cuban Revolution, Latour began writing novels in the ‘80s, while working in the Ministry of Finance. He quit and became a full time writer in 1990 however, his 1994 book “The Fool”, based on a true corruption case, was branded counterrevolutionary, leading to his being classified as an enemy of the people. Believing his books would not be published in Cuba, he decided to write a book in English and “Outcast” was the result. Five more books have followed. He and his family finally decided to leave the repression in Cuba, moving first to Spain and finally settling in Canada.


  1. Interesting review, Deb. I'll definitely check him out for the Global Reading Challenge.

  2. Have you read any other Cuban msytery writers, Rebecca?