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I put Serpa next to Carpentier, Faulkner and Hemingway.
What a shame that such filmmakers as Ford or Curtiz never seized upon this literary treasure!
—Le Figaro Magazine
With love and sensuality Enrique Serpa breathes life into his city and people in this human tragicomedy—horrifyingly human.
Enrique Serpa’s acclaimed and brilliant portrayal of the tumultuous, desperate, and wretched world of Havana in the 1920s was originally published in Spanish in 1938 and is now being offered for the first time in English. Contraband is a masterpiece of modern Cuban literature, a rollicking metaphor for a time of necessary change.
Serpa tells the story in first person, his narrator the owner of La Buena Ventura, the beautiful and graceful fishing schooner that has become less economically viable over the years; in the Cuba of that time, fishing is no longer a profitable trade.
Shark, the skipper, comes up with a different way to use the ship and asks the owner to join him in carrying it out. The owner/narrator, a coward and mythomaniac, is worn out from years of debauchery, and he admires the quick-thinking Shark. For this reason, when the skipper suggests that they smuggle alcohol into a Prohibition-stricken United States, he goes along with the plan.
The two men agree to work together, but their relationship, which drives the story, becomes increasingly competitive. As in their country, a peculiar tension simmers just below the surface. The novel is suspenseful yet lyrical, a vivid portrayal of a desperate Cuban willing to bet his livelihood and life on the corruptible Americans to the north.
Enrique Serpa : Enrique Serpa (1900–1968) was born in Havana. He was a tireless reporter, and later the cultural attaché of the Cuban Embassy in Paris (1952–1959). He published his first novel, Felisa y yo, in 1925. In 1938 Contraband brought him fame and recognition when it won the National Prize for a Novel.