April 2005

Beth Dugan


Dirty Blonde and Half Cuban by Lisa Wixon

Dirty Blonde and Half Cuban, the debut novel of Lisa Wixon, is based on her wildly successful Havana Honey series published in Salon.com in 2003 under the character's name, Alysia Vilar. The book is the first person account of American Vilar’s search through Havana for her real father. Her mother died of cancer when she was thirteen and in a deathbed whisper told Alysia that her foreign diplomat, WASPy, socialite father was not, in fact, her father. Her real father was a man named Jose Antonio, the love of her mother’s life, and he was waiting for her in Cuba. Twelve years later Alysia decides to go look for him in Havana when disaster strikes: a day after she arrives, all her money is stolen and her visa will not allow her to return to the US for a year. She is forced, by very real poverty, to join the ranks of Cubanos who deal in prostitution with foreign tourists to survive, the jineteras -- "jinetera" means jockey and the men and women who ply this trade are not quite prostitutes, not quite mistresses, and not quite comfortable enough to be called "kept."

A jinetera will have as many yumas, or foreign lovers, as they can manage at a time and the more the better. Alysia resigns herself to her fate as a jinetera and supports herself while she bribes various people to help her look for her father. Alysia has several trysts and encounters with yumas from different countries which are often very humorous due to Alysia’s ineptness as a lover and American hang ups about sex. In fact, Alysia’s biggest problem in Cuba has nothing to do with affordable housing, a language barrier, living in a Communist society, or getting enough food to eat. It is that she is Norteamericana and just doesn’t get it. She can’t dance. She can’t flirt. She walks like she has a stick up her butt. She worries too much. She is clumsy. She has guilt that prevents her from enjoying her random sexual encounters with rich foreign men… at least that is what the Cubanos are telling her. And the Cubanos are a collection of beautiful, generous, laugh-in-the-face-of-adversity, fun-loving people.

Wixon paints a picture of Cuba that is easy to fall in love with. The natural beauty of the country is complemented by the generosity and charm of its people. She incorporates the darker side of Cuba as well: the black market, the corruption, the paranoia, and shortages of every kind that are part of everyday life, but these things are secondary to the story. And Alysia’s story is spellbinding; a highly educated, beautiful young, white woman who is in Cuba for a noble cause, paying her way with sex and deception. It’s titillating and that was why it was so well received in Salon.com when it ran in their now defunct Sex section. Moving the story along with short bursts, like diary entries, Alysia narrates her story and intersperses it with flashes of her mother and Jose Antonio’s torrid affair, her step-father’s coldness, and her very fuzzy memories of the three years she spent in Cuba after she was born.

Wixon has a propensity to end Alysia’s chapter’s chapters with overly dramatic punches. You can almost hear the 1950’s movie soundtrack behind pronouncements like, “'I’m going to miss you,' I said, not knowing it was the last time I’d ever see her.” or “On it is scrawled one word: bitch.” Perhaps this is because, like Alysia, Wixon is Norteamericana and can’t relax into her compelling story just as Alysia can’t relax into being Cubana. Luckily both of them find their footing by the end of the novel. In what could have disintegrated into schmaltzy family reunions, declarations of love, and Hallmark greeting card summaries of Alysia’s year in Cuba and what she learned, Wixon rises above that and delivers a very believable, bittersweet ending doing justice to the characters she tended throughout the novel.

Dirty Blonde and Half Cuban by Lisa Wixon
ISBN: 006072174X
256 Pages