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Outcast [Hardcover]

Jose LaTour
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 25 2001
The Edgar Award-nominated Outcast is a sophisticated, brutally honest, and gripping suspense novel that delves into the highly charged underworlds of modern-day Havana and Miami.

Elliot Steil, the son of a Cuban mother and an American-born laborer living on the island before the revolution, is a down-on-his-luck schoolteacher in Havana. Like so many of his fellow Havanans, he has come to accept his rather dull life and for the most part has given up hoping for a better future. But unexpectedly he is offered the opportunity to escape when a man appears on the island, claiming to be an old friend of Elliot's deceased father. The man offers to take Elliot to the United States, but it isn't long before he reveals his ulterior motives and Elliot is left to die in the dangerous waters of the Florida Straits. It is there that Elliot begins to relive the events of his life that have haunted him since his childhood. He is miraculously rescued by a family onboard a makeshift raft and soon after arriving in Miami begins his search for the man who betrayed him. As the search immerses him deeper and deeper into Miami's darker side of crime and corruption, he slowly unravels the mystery of his bicultural past and its links to the man who knew his father many decades earlier.

Outcast is at once a brilliantly atmospheric and stunningly written literary achievement and the dazzling American debut of one of Latin America's most accomplished crime writers.


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From Amazon

The recent explosion of Cuba-mania means that people who don't speak a word of Spanish are singing along with Compay Segundo, Ibrahim Ferrer, and the rest of the Buena Vista wunder-octogenarians; that Cuban cigars are more chic than clichéd; and that José Latour, popular Cuban thriller writer, is publishing his first English-language novel. Set partly in Havana and partly in Miami, Outcast will provide many Anglophone noir fans with their first glimpse of that genre as practiced in a country still largely tantalizing in its inaccessibility.

Elliot Steil, born of a Cuban mother to a long-vanished American father, may not love his life in Havana (as an English teacher earning the equivalent of $2 a month, who would?), but he loves the city itself for its tattered elegance and the warmth of its people. His response to the communist political philosophy that underpins and overlies Cuba is one of generally resigned apathy. The arrival of Dan Gastler, who claims to be an old friend of Elliot's father, catapults Elliot from apathy to action when Gastler offers the teacher a chance to escape to the U.S. on his sailboat.

But Gastler shoves Elliot overboard mid-journey, leaving him to die in the Florida Straits. The serendipitous arrival of a family of Cuban rafters prevents him from drowning, but does little to assuage Elliot's baffled fury. The answers come slowly, as the teacher tackles a dual mission: to survive financially and psychologically as a Cuban refugee in Miami, and to uncover the identity and motive of his attacker. The former pulls him gradually into the city's grungy criminal underbelly, and the latter entangles him in a treacherous web of bitter family history and political machinations--with deadly consequences.

Though Latour is no Vladimir Nabokov (his grasp of English, while certainly commendable, doesn't prevent a host of bizarre phrasings from jarring the reader's eye and ear), Outcast is at heart a workmanlike thriller. Its innate straightforwardness, however, is often at odds with Latour's efforts to fancy things up with arbitrary chronological leaps and shifts in narrative perspective, which undermine the novel's pacing and plot. But for readers looking for a glimpse into Cuban American life through a rarely used prism, Outcast will deliver the goods. --Kelly Flynn

Review

"...a swell little book." -- -- The Village Voice

"A remarkable novel." -- -- Washington Post

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"Elliot Steil sat on a backless bench in the shady public park, rested his left ankle over his right knee, slipped off a well-worn tasseled loafer, and began massaging his foot." Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Perfect March 2 2004
Format:Paperback
This novel grabbed me from the get-go, and didn't let go until about 3/5 of the way through.
Jose Latour is a brilliant Cuban crime writer, who has style and insight. This, his first written in English, should be read by all mystery/crime novel lovers. Starts out in Havana, a Cuban English teacher (of part North American desent), who is rather indifferent towrds the revolution, is contacted by an American who says he has been paid 9k to bring this teacher to Miami. The plan is set, but half way there, our friend is pushed off the boat, and left for the sharks. There begins the drama and mystery.
Don't worry, I did not spoil anything, there is so much that happens in this novel. It did become a tad bit inconcevable towards the end, for that I knocked off one star. But it is an entertaining read, and was quite enlightening in regards to Cuba.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Decent Thriller, Great on Cuba Aug. 17 2001
By A. Ross
Format:Hardcover
One might easy lump Latour's gritty thriller in with the plethora of serviceable South Florida crime fiction on the shelves, but that would be overlooking its' value as a window into modern Cuban society. Set in 1994, the book starts with Elliot Steil, a Cuban English teacher and apathetic Marxist who ekes out a dreary existence in a Havana where food is scarce, and the state's omnipresence stifles expression. His life is thrown into turmoil when an American tourist shows up, claiming to be a friend of his long-vanished father, and offering to help him escape to America. However, in a stunning reversal, Elliot is left to die in the waters off Florida. Rescued by fellow Cuban rafters, he makes it to Miami, where he must learn a whole new way of living in the land of the almighty dollar.
The book is at its' best in showing the unpleasant reality of life in modern Cuba (one completely absent from Daniel Chavarria's Cuban crime caper "Adios Muchachos"), and the bewilderment of a refugee adjusting to life in America. As Elliot gets his measure of America and manages to scrape some cash together, he starts to wonder who would try to kill him and why. His fairly straightforward investigation is broken up with lengthy flashbacks and backstory which are a little awkward, but not overly so. An engaging supporting cast helps him in his quest, from the car thief Hairball, to former student Tony, to a tough Jewish businessman. Less well-conceived are the villains of the piece, who suffer from weak characterizations and unlikely actions. The outcome is not overly surprising, but the book is well worth reading for Latour's thoughtful contrast of modern Cuban and American societies, and the flaws of each.
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars great May 27 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Outcast is a marvellous atempt to capture Cuban culture and history whilst simultaneously showing you the plight that many illegal immigrants have to go through when trying to cross the 90 miles of sea to get to the states, miami. I take my hat if to latour, as he builds suspense so to does he build up red hearings to fool you and presents some quite unexpected twists. Its genre is crime and his imagery is nothing short of amazing i have never felt so emersed in a book where i could actually see everything he was describing. Pick it up you will not regret it I know i havent.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great mystery/thriller Oct. 23 2002
Format:Hardcover
This is a great mystery thriller by a well known Cuban writer. Usually foreign writers can't translate thier styles, to my liking, into American literature. Jose Latour is an exception and I just pray he keeps writing more for his American fans.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a book. Feb. 1 2000
By Carl Granados - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Wow! What a book. I usually don't like books written by foreign writers (other than English) and was suprised. It reads more like a thriller than a mystery. Yet it also explores the depth of its characters in the tradition of a "John D. McDonald" (Travis McGee novels). Still it is more. It is philosophical, introspective, and much of its language is poetic. A mystery with a lot meat.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent Thriller, Great on Cuba Aug. 17 2001
By A. Ross - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
One might easy lump Latour's gritty thriller in with the plethora of serviceable South Florida crime fiction on the shelves, but that would be overlooking its' value as a window into modern Cuban society. Set in 1994, the book starts with Elliot Steil, a Cuban English teacher and apathetic Marxist who ekes out a dreary existence in a Havana where food is scarce, and the state's omnipresence stifles expression. His life is thrown into turmoil when an American tourist shows up, claiming to be a friend of his long-vanished father, and offering to help him escape to America. However, in a stunning reversal, Elliot is left to die in the waters off Florida. Rescued by fellow Cuban rafters, he makes it to Miami, where he must learn a whole new way of living in the land of the almighty dollar.
The book is at its' best in showing the unpleasant reality of life in modern Cuba (one completely absent from Daniel Chavarria's Cuban crime caper "Adios Muchachos"), and the bewilderment of a refugee adjusting to life in America. As Elliot gets his measure of America and manages to scrape some cash together, he starts to wonder who would try to kill him and why. His fairly straightforward investigation is broken up with lengthy flashbacks and backstory which are a little awkward, but not overly so. An engaging supporting cast helps him in his quest, from the car thief Hairball, to former student Tony, to a tough Jewish businessman. Less well-conceived are the villains of the piece, who suffer from weak characterizations and unlikely actions. The outcome is not overly surprising, but the book is well worth reading for Latour's thoughtful contrast of modern Cuban and American societies, and the flaws of each.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Cuban crime fiction! Sept. 29 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It is so hard to find books by Cuban authors. This book was thrilling and I literally could not put it down. Embedded in the sociopolitics of Cuba and the US, this book gave me a refreshingly even-handed look at the shortcomings of both societies while maintaining an incredibly suspenseful (and unpredictable!) story line. A must read for anyone interested in Cuban literature or excellent crime writing.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A special suspense novel as well as a social commentary Feb. 2 2001
By Harriet Klausner - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
In his forties, Havana high school teacher Elliot Steil is not a Marxist maniac. Perhaps it is his American father who abandoned Elliot and his now deceased mother over forty years ago or just his love for the relics of pre-Castro Cuba. His lack of demonstrated enthusiasm for Communism has cost him promotions he deserves over less qualified people.
Everything abruptly changes for Elliot when American Don Gastner visits him with a chance to escape to Key West. Don insists he is an old war buddy of Elliot's father who now feels guilty for forsaking his family. Although under suspicion because of Don's visit and his lineage, Elliot agrees to flee. Instead of taking him to America, Don leaves Elliot to die in the waters off Florida. Somehow surviving the ordeal, Elliot begins his own investigation into why someone went to so much trouble to have him killed..
OUTCAST is an exciting look at the dichotomy facing Cuban-Americans and Cubans still living on the island. Elliot is a superb lead character who has one foot on Cuba and one foot on Florida as he arches over one of the longest 90 miles in the world. The early members of the support cast such as his Cuban neighbors, Don, and the flashbacks to his parents and life just before the Revolution are great depictions, but the villains seem weak in comparison. Though some awkward translation (book was originally written in Spanish) leads to ineffective language usage, readers will fully relish a powerful look at the Cuban scenario within a well-written amateur sleuth tale.

Harriet Klausner
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Almost Perfect March 2 2004
By S. Sommerville - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This novel grabbed me from the get-go, and didn't let go until about 3/5 of the way through.
Jose Latour is a brilliant Cuban crime writer, who has style and insight. This, his first written in English, should be read by all mystery/crime novel lovers. Starts out in Havana, a Cuban English teacher (of part North American desent), who is rather indifferent towrds the revolution, is contacted by an American who says he has been paid 9k to bring this teacher to Miami. The plan is set, but half way there, our friend is pushed off the boat, and left for the sharks. There begins the drama and mystery.
Don't worry, I did not spoil anything, there is so much that happens in this novel. It did become a tad bit inconcevable towards the end, for that I knocked off one star. But it is an entertaining read, and was quite enlightening in regards to Cuba.
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