A flawed yet exuberant and sensuous first novel from acclaimed travel writer Iyer (The Lady and the Monk, 1991; Falling Off the Map, 1993, etc.). Richard, a globe-trotting news photographer, travels to Cuba to pursue a photo-essay on love for money, and since seemingly everyone in Cuba is on the make, he finds plenty of material. Modern Havana is a crumbling jumble of historical oddities dominated by the vision of Fidel Castro but haunted by the legacy of the American-supported Batista regime, as well as by the romanticism of Josâ€š MartÂ¡, the 19th-century poet/revolutionary whose line ""Two fatherlands have I: Cuba and the night"" echoes throughout the novel. The world-weary and recently separated narrator is leery of women's motivations and confides his feelings to a fellow traveler named Hugo, a reserved British schoolteacher who feels overwhelmed by the overt sensuality of Cuba. When Richard becomes involved with Lourdes, a beautiful young Cuban woman, he vows that it'll be just another expense-account affair and that he won't let her trap him into marriage -- the best way for young women to escape the grinding poverty and boredom of time-forsaken Cuba. But Richard is drawn back to the island over and over again and finally conspires with Hugo to get Lourdes out of the country. Playing with themes of trust and belonging, Iyer almost breathlessly steers the reader through well-wrought and wryly depicted scenes, but he frequently moves so quickly -- with an almost first-draft or outline speed -- that there's hardly time for contemplation by the hero, especially toward the dramatic conclusion. Still, a smart, compelling debut -- and a definite airplane read.