Goodreads Reviews & Cuba

Even though The Beggar’s Opera is not yet out (it will be on bookshelves in February), Penguin did a ten book giveaway on Goodreads a month or so ago. So far, five people who won advance copies have reviewed and/or rated it, which I think is an incredible response. The reviews so far have been uniformly terrific. Except for one, by someone who wasn’t actually one of the winners and actually posted the rating before the galleys were sent out. And like any author, it’s that one that’s bugging me.

What’s troubling me, since the book is set in Cuba,  is that the reader has a Cuban name.

She gave the book one star out of five (there is no zero, or I’m sure I would have received it). Unfortunately, she didn’t give any reasons as to why she hated the mere idea of this book so much, nor has she ever reviewed or even rated any other books.

Now, I can well imagine how someone from Cuba might not like my story. For one thing, it deals with the sex trade and child prostitution in Havana. These are difficult subjects. I’m sure Cubans don’t like to think about them, anymore than Canadians like to be reminded of the over five hundred Aboriginal prostitutes across Canada who are missing and presumed dead. 

But shortly after The Beggar’s Opera was accepted for publication , I found a news item about three Italian tourists who are being held in a Cuban jail for the drug-related death of a 12 year old child prostitute.  So even though I had made up the plot, the fact of child prostitution in Cuba is not fiction.

I can also imagine someone familiar with Havana thinking I didn’t know my way around.  The famous Callejón de Hamel  is similar to my Blind Alley but not the same. The Parque Cuidad hotel does not exist, although it bears a resemblance to the stunning NH Parque Central; the park I’ve set it beside is also fictitious. El Bar was not Hemingway’s favourite bar, although I’ve described it as being so in the book.  In fact, Hemingway preferred the hotel bar at the Hotel Floridita for his daiquiris and La Bodeguita del Medio for his mojitos. There is, I’m afraid, no El Bar — it is imaginary.

And the command structure of the police force I’ve created bears no relationship to reality either.

Why make these changes?

Well, I had a a very real concern that a story about a child who is sexually assaulted and murdered in a real Havana hotel might negatively impact that hotel as well as the people who work there. The same applies to the Callejón de Hamel. And since I have prostitutes hanging around bars, I didn’t want to single out a real bar for the same reason, so I made one up. 

As for the police structure, I could only find one article about how the legal system works in Cuba and that was in an academic journal.

I was never arrested while in Havana; I have no firsthand experience with the police  there except what I’ve observed. Cuban author José  Latour writes in his books about how the Cuban police do investigations but I didn’t want to start borrowing from his work, so I had to invent.

Of course, it’s possible that the reader simply hated the plot. Fair enough. The story isn’t for everyone; no book is. The good news is that another Goodreads reviewer who is very  familar with Cuba  has given it 4 stars out of 5:

“I really liked this book! I used to be married to a Cuban, I was in Cuba many times and I felt like the book depicted the life in Cuba quite accurately. I finished The Beggar’s Opera in 2 days (I actually was reading another book at that time and I wanted to just take a peek to see what this book was about. ) I could not stop reading it and had to finish it before I went back to my other book 🙂 I needed to find out “who did it” but also wanted to follow the stories of the book’s many interesting characters till the very end. Extraordinario y gracias!!! ”


Check out Penguin Canada’s book trailer for The Beggar’s Opera  here! It’s pretty cool!

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5 Responses to Goodreads Reviews & Cuba

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m always a little suspicious of “reviewers” who have one review and rate a book as low as it can go. Unfortunately there are people with agendas out there and the system is very easy to game.

    My favorite one star review of my own work, however, was by a legitimate reader/reviewer who wrote: “I have made a vow not to say anything negative on the internet. But if I could give this book less than one star, I would.”


    • Peggy Blair says:

      Ouch! Well, I loved your book. And when I have a mo’, I’ll put up a review of it on Goodreads.


      • Peggy Blair says:

        Well, actually, I’ll just post up the one I did here!


        • Lisa says:

          It’s much appreciated. I am trying to accept that I do work that polarizes people (heh, look at the latest one star review on GR for example!), and that everyone is entitled to their opinion. I mean, we put the work out there, and then how people react to it is out of our control. But that’s not to say it isn’t painful. And in some cases, the ones that feel maliciously motivated, it’s especially hard.


          • Peggy Blair says:

            Yeah, I sure don’t like the idea of someone who pops into Goodreads and puts a one star review down without any explanation — I don’t even know if the person in question was one of the ten who got the free book. But once it’s out there, it’s out there — certainly can’t control how people react, only hope. Btw, I have just posted up my review of Rock Paper Tiger on Goodreads; hope you can do the same for TBO! Cheers, Peggy


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