Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 October, 2011, 12:00am


Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes
by William Kennedy
Brilliance Audio/Simon and Schuster (audiobook)

Veteran US writer William Kennedy is best known for his 1983 novel Ironweed, which he adapted into the Oscar-winning film. Now 83, he is writing as well as ever, as Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes proves. Unlike much of his work, it is not set in Albany in New York State, but takes place in Cuba before the 1959 revolution. This is the Cuba of Ernest Hemingway and Fidel Castro, who is credibly rendered as the ideal interviewee for a journalist called Daniel Quinn. Quinn is swept into a life of guerilla activism after he meets an almost absurdly glamorous gun-runner called Renata. The pair marry, and whirl from Havana's nightclubs into the jungles. On their tail are the forces of Fulgencio Batista, the US-backed president. Ahead is an idealised life of love and politics. Kennedy reads this with grizzled conviction - as if Hemingway himself was inspiring his prose with drawls and barks. He has great fun rendering Castro. While he is less convincing about the love story, he gets the rest spot on. The sound quality, though, at times makes Kennedy sound as if he is reading inside a cavernous portaloo.