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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Daniel Chavarria (translation by Carlos Lopez)
Adios Muchachos
Akashic Books

Rating: 3.5/10 ?

November 18, 2003
Alicia is a bicycle hooker on the streets of Havana. Oh, the possibilities created by this concept! Set in Castro's untamed Cuba with a devastatingly beautiful and wickedly cunning young woman as the protagonist, this novel had the potential to go anywhere it liked and in whatever form: political, comical, tragic, or as a tome on modern sexuality. Add to the mix a filthy rich European family exerting its formidable power on the island and living in opulence away from the central slums and you have a situation ripe for the literary picking. One can imagine Nabokov unabashedly exploring the options with his bawdy intellectualism or Carl Hiaasen creating a fantastical array of characters and outlandish plot turns, and as I read the first sentence of the author's short bio I thought I may be in for a treat on par:

Daniel Chavarria is a Uruguayan writer with two passions: Classical literature and whores. The stage was set.

After two or three chapters, however, all of my hopes for the book began to fall like cabanas in a typhoon. Granted that this is a translation from Chavarria's original Spanish, yet even if we assume that the original text lies on the best end of the parameters lent by translation it still falls well within the great mass of mediocrity. It is written in a universally unoriginal language filled with thematic and specific clichés. Take this passage:

Margarita took Elizabeth's death like a real professional, rolling with the punches. She nearly went down for the count on the revelation of Elizabeth being a man, but it was Victor's plan that really threw her for a loop.

Chavarria misses every opportunity presented to him to make this an interesting novel. It is neither funny nor revolting nor sexy nor political nor any other compliment you might cull up from other books you've read. The knowledge the reader receives about Cuba could have just as easily been gotten from a map. There is no investigation into the country's political or economical woes, and any interest in its rich history or culture or populace, has been funneled into the mention of a native shrimp dish.

He uses Cuba's poverty merely as a prop for his characters' immense greed. There is neither anyone to admire nor anyone to despise, but it is certainly not as a result of their complexity. You will find great clues in the patterns of a full-length novel. Look for certain words or actions used in repetition as an indicator of an author's intentions. One of this book's patterns (besides mind-blowing sex) is the raising of eyebrows, which seems to be what Mr. Chavarria is attempting to do with his readers using banal shock tactics, and what better tactics to use than sex and corpses? Unfortunately for necrophiliacs, he fails to mix the two. After all, that would be indecent. This is as close as he gets:

Alicia kissed him on the neck as he caressed her butt. Handling the corpse stirred a desire in them to embrace, to feel the warmth of life, of flowing blood, of throbbing bodies.

The numerous sex scenes are animalistic without intention or review. The characters' lust is like a bursting dam; they think nothing of copulating after packing a corpse into a freezer. Chavarria spares no detail when it comes to the female form. We are reminded again and again how ripe Alicia's buttocks are for squeezing, how luscious her large thighs are and how firm her breasts are (which is impressive considering the number of times they are kneaded and massaged throughout the book). The only humor in this reading is imagining how often he had to wipe the slobber off his keyboard.

Tell me if this wouldn't work well as an intro to a Playboy centerfolds video:

Well, the maid thought, I guess I told her. Lots of privacy and no staff can only mean one thing . . . orgies.

This novel shares one characteristic with Cuba: it is stuck in the 1960's. This is a soft-core James Bond pornography adventure without the adventure, and if Daniel Chavarria is "one of Latin America's finest writers," then I send my condolences to Uruguay.

Reviewed by N.D. Burkey
A longtime infrequent contributor to LAS, Neil David Burkey is a painter, writer, sculptor and all-around artistic type. He currently lives in London, England, where he is, at long last, a legal resident.

See other reviews by N.D. Burkey



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