In 1995, while being interrogated for reasons not yet revealed, Oscar Mandinga spins a colorful yarn about his ancestors and the rustic backwater village they called home: Pata de Puerco, or “Pig’s Foot” in English.
It begins with his great-grandfather and namesake, a pygmy of African heritage. He and his best friend, José, marry sisters, and their lives, and those of others they meet, play out against Cuba’s troubled political backdrop, from violent slave uprisings on a sugar plantation to the Spanish-American War to the Communist revolution and afterward.
The younger Oscar’s tone is rough and sarcastic, and the tales he tells are often exaggerated, but underneath all the bluster are several tender stories of love and family and the gradual unfolding of his heartfelt search for identity. Pata de Puerco may exist solely within Acosta’s rich imagination, but its unique characters and their exploits will long resonate in readers’ minds.
Pig's Foot will be published by Bloomsbury USA next Tuesday, January 14th, in hardcover ($26, 352pp). Bloomsbury published it in the UK last October. Frank Wynne translated it from the original Spanish. This review first appeared in Booklist (11/15/13).
Some additional notes:
(1) While it can definitely be called a historical novel, Pig's Foot also fits with the Latin American tradition of magical realism, which probably will come as no surprise.
(2) There's a twist at the end that readers may find either entirely suitable, given the outlandish nature of a good part of the plot, or unsettling and upsetting. (I was part of the first group.)
(3) At the end of 2013, the author was recognized with a CBE in Queen Elizabeth II's New Year's Honours List for his services to ballet.