Pig’s Foot, by Carlos Acosta
The acclaimed dancer’s debut novel is as lively and catchy as Cuban music
Exuberance and a gleeful return to the characteristic devices – and multiple excesses – of magic realism sustain the richly entertaining debut novel by the Cuban ballet dancer Carlos Acosta. Pig’s Foot tells the story of a family’s adventures set against the racing backdrop of Cuba’s history.
On realising that with the death of his grandparents – he never knew his parents – he has been left alone, the narrator feels compelled to set the facts straight. “So like I said, my name’s Oscar Mandinga – pleased to meet you – now, back to the hazy past that was my childhood.”
His birth in a place called Pig’s Foot, “in the deep south of Cuba”, is relatively unusual: “I slid down my mother’s legs into the mud like a slug. Can you imagine? Like a slug. And . . . as soon as my mother plucked me up out of the muck, I started howling like I’d been stuck with a fistful of needles.”
It doesn’t take long for the reader to begin noting the similarities with The Tin Drum. Acosta’s Oscar shares the crazed bluntness of Günter Grass’s wilful little Oskar Matzerath. Acosta quickly establishes the voice of his Oscar: sharp, streetwise and given to seeing the funny side of most of the horrors, of which there are plenty.
In common with Grass, Acosta looks to history and offers a cleverly impatient account of the many ills inflicted on the people of Cuba. Grass the fabulist owes a stylist debt to the Cuban Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980), widely regarded as the founding father of magic realism, which makes Acosta’s book appear to have turned a full circle.
Throughout Pig’s Foot, Acosta remains in control of his narrative strands and large cast of characters. Subplots are introduced, pursued and resolved with an awareness of detail that seldom appears contrived. There is an ease about this book that will impress. By the third page Oscar has casually mentioned: “The only thing I knew about my grandparents was that years earlier they’d moved from Santiago de Cuba to a barrio called Lawton in the city of Havana and opened a laundry business that brought in just enough to put food on the table. I have no problem remembering El Buen Vivir – The Good Life Laundromat – since I worked there as a kid, but even back then, I never heard any stories about my grandparents, never saw any photos of them when they were young.”