This time we met to discuss Cuban ballet star, Carlos Acosta’s only novel, Pig’s foot, his ambitious conceit of an alternative black Cuban history, set as a first person account by the descendant of African slaves, which finally appears to be the fancy of an incarcerated madman. (Think Gogol’s Diary of madman and Dostoevsky’s The double!)
It was this dénouement which divided opinion – Sara and Rory thought it didn’t work, was a cop-out, should perhaps have been edited out, whereas Jenny claimed it as her best bit. The point, for Malcolm, was that the pointers to South American magic realism (magic pig, bleeding amulet, resurrected pygmies, enchanted cobweb) are suddenly undone by rational explanation. And the narrative hadn’t been all that magic-realist anyway because it rambled so. Still, what a phenomenon, a one-off by a black, straight, male ballet star! That was the problem, according to Sara. If he hadn’t been a dancer, he’d have had a better editor. But another phenomenal fact she thought likely was that there were no other black Cuban novelists. How unique is that? In Cuba, he is a hero and lives there half of the time.
The story is long, complicated, grisly and palpably sexist – this last the hardest to take for Rory and Janet. But as a way of teaching Cuban history, for Malcolm, it took the biscuit. Despite the narrator’s nominally anomic stance, it had peculiar leftist motifs, like the narrator’s father, a slave-family child savant, renouncing a career as architect because of his aperçu, that bricks are used to build status symbols of inequality. And the ‘German Jew’ character’s avowal, that history is full of empires like the Romans’ who built everything on stolen money.
For Janet, it was an examination of jealousy and the sins of the father. But it had loose ends, she thought. For Liz, it was a dark fairy story, or a bunch of them.
Two recurrent points of reference in the story are senteria, the local voodoo, and the post-Soviet Special Economic Period of Cuban history. Oddly intertwined – as late as 2008, according to Sara, a cult priest was elected. And of course the book was written before the Obama intervention to relieve the USA blockade of trade. Weird times.