A Belgian graduate student, Alexandra Sanchez, wrote a very interesting article recently in which she compared the world view expressed in The Beggar’s Opera to that of Leon Padura in his mystery novel Pasado Perfecto.
It’s a very compelling analysis. Distilled to its essence, she concludes that my perceptions of Cuba (its poverty, and communism) as an outsider reflect an inherent Western supremacy and that Paduro, a native Cuban, doesn’t really mention these things: they’re a given. Overall, she finds his work more sympathetic to Castro and communism.
I think an outsider writing about another culture will flag things that strike them as inconsistent with their own world view and therefore of interest. So I agree with her: I mention all kinds of things, including the history of the island, that Paduro doesn’t.
But if you read the second book in the series, The Poisoned Pawn, I’m pretty critical of western institutions too (this is a theme that gets further developed in Hungry Ghosts and Umbrella Man, yet to be published). I think that’s a result of my human rights background, which may in itself make the reviewer’s point.
Anyway, here’s a link to the Google translation of the article, Poetics and Politics and the so-called Ethnic Detective. (I wish I read Dutch, but one of my readers, who is Dutch, says it’s impeccably written). If you do read Dutch, you’ll likely find the original article of interest: here’s the link.