Tag Archives: Carlos Eire

La mejor carta de Cuba libro

20 Dec

The announcement this week that the Obama Administration’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba was,with the exception of the usual pathological reactions by the Know-Nothing party and its flying monkeys, greeted with jubilation and hosannahs. And a number commentators offered to catch up curious readers with lists of Cuban books. Thus, I feel compelled to offer my own primer on Cuban culture

John Williams, a New York Times writer put together a useful list which is a good place to start:

“Telex From Cuba” by Rachel Kushner
“Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba” by Tom Miller
“The Man Who Loved Dogs” by Leonardo Padura
“Dancing With Cuba” by Alma Guillermoprieto
“Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba” by Tom Gjelten
“Cobra” and “Maitreya” by Severo Sarduy
“Waiting for Snow in Havana” by Carlos Eire
“Three Trapped Tigers” by Guillermo Cabrera Infante
“Before Night Falls” by Reinaldo Arenas
“Dreaming in Cuban” by Cristina García
“Paradiso” by José Lezama Lima
“Explosion in a Cathedral”by Alejo Carpentier
“Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba: Or the Pursuit of Freedom by Hugh Thomas

This is the original seminal comprehensive survey of Cuban history from pre-Columbian innocence to Spanish conquest to American annexation to the revolutionary present.

Fidel By Tad Szluc

Fidel By Tad Szluc

Fidel: A Critical Portrait by Tad Szluc

Any book list would be incomplete with out a book on Fidel. Szluc’s biography is useful and unadorned and it only suffers from the burden that afflicts most stories of person’s life, there is too much information.

The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes (a novel)

Journalist Fuentes was once a revolutionary and a member of Fidel’s inner circle. As such things happen, he came a persona non grata,fleeing from a death sentence. This fiction closely adheres to the facts but is presented in Castro’s bombastic, megalomaniacal style voice (familiar for his endless hours long orations)

Mea Cuba by  Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Guillermo Cabrera Infante exiled in 1965, an important figure in the cultural battles that took place under the Triumph of the Revolution,was the quintessential Cuban man of letters and his Mea Cuba, a collection of prose miscellany, showcases his wry wit, penchant for puns, and encyclopedic overview of Cuban literary culture.This anthology is rife with the narratives about those battles its belligerents told by a gifted storyteller.I interviewed him in 1995.Here’s a snippet of that chat:

RB: Why do you write?

GCI…I was a very keen reader which I’m not anymore. So there was a book called El Senor Presidente by Miguel Ángel Asturias[Nobel Prize winner] a Guatemalan writer…it was all the rage in 1947. A friend of mine told me about it and there was an article in a magazine and there were excerpts from the book. And I saw them and I said to him, “If that’s writing I can do it.”

And he said to me, “I bet you can not.” I said, “yes, I’ll prove it to you.” So I wrote a short story which was just terrible. I’m not going to tell you the title because I want to forget all about it. And he read it and said why don’t you take it to Bohemia, which was the same magazine the magazine that published the article on Asturias. And I took it and I met there a man who was managing editor of Bohemia, who was in charge of all fiction, who was also a Spanish exile from Franco. He was a member of the Republic, very important in those years…I gave him the short story and he said come back next week and I thought, because he had a very thick Spanish, I mean, Northern Spanish accent, you wouldn’t believe it how fast they talk and how thick they are that they actually can be, I thought that he meant that the next week they were going to publish my story. So I went back and he was there. And, of course, they didn’t publish my story so soon. They waited for the next year— for 1948. But this man said why don’t you come to see me on Saturday afternoon and I’ll give you some books to read. And he gave me mostly books by Spanish authors which, for me at the time, didn’t mean anything. So Spanish writers were not my ideal of writers at all. And this man made me his private secretary. So, he published the short story. They gave me fifty dollars, which for me was, you know, like Ali Babba going into the cave. And I just wrote another short story. They published it and again another fifty dollars. So, I made a correlation between writing and getting money. And then it became a habit. And then it became something more serious, like an addiction. And that’s how everything started.

The Mambo Kings Sings Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

The Mambo Kings Sings Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

The Mambo Kings Sing Songs of Love Oscar Hijuelos

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel is a vivid albeit melancholy portrayal of life in mid century Cuba and in the US for Cuban exiles/immigrants.

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Many writers have attempted to write the Cuban-American exile story; with Los Gusanos SP , worms), gringo John Sayles lays out a compelling tale as illuminating as any documentary on Cuban-American relations during Fidel’s tenure.

Driving Through Cuba by  Carlos Gebler

Driving Through Cuba by Carlos Gebler

Driving Through Cuba: Rare Encounters in the Land of Sugar Cane and Revolution by Carlos Gebler

in 1988 Gebler, in an ailing Russian auto, travels the length of Cuba ostensibly in a hunt for a 1959 Coup de Ville Brougham),. encountering abandoned vintage cars, the propagandist museum of the Bay of Pugs, decaying architecture in Old Havana, and once famous beaches swamped with dead crabs.

Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba Selected and edited by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba
Selected and edited by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuba in Splinters: Eleven Stories from the New Cuba Selected and edited by Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

I have written previously about this anthology Pardo Lazo characterizes the sum total of the eleven stories:

t is possible that this anthology is the portrait of a family that never was. The communicating vessels between these eleven stories are not bridges but circuits: affinities, violence, tensions between text and anti-text which coinciding in the same book, produce a collision that consumes its own meaning, generating light. A radiant, incandescent zero of patria-plasma

Cuba and Its Music  by Ned Sublette

Cuba and Its Music by Ned Sublette

Cuba and Its Music by Ned Sublette

Texan musician Ned Sublette, founder of Qbadisc records, taps his unparalleled knowledge of Cuban culture and music to provide the informed and impassioned history Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (Chicago Review Press). P.S.: A second volume is forthcoming.

The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball  by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria

The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria

The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball by Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria

Among other things this tome dispenses with the myth that Castro was scouted by the U.S. major leagues and was signed…well, you can guess the rest. Echevarria also does well to restore dignity to Caribbean and Cuban beisbol that suffers at the hands of other nasty yanqui habits and attitudes.

Back Channel to Cuba by Willima Le Grande and Peter Kornbluth

Back Channel to Cuba by Willima Le Grande and Peter Kornbluth

Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations between Washington and Havana by William M. LeoGrande , Peter Kornbluh

As has now become apparent Barack Obama’s promise of a “new approach” has come to fruition. This book, using hundreds of formerly secret U.S. documents and interviewing numerous negotiators, intermediaries, and policy makers presents the long untold history of efforts to normalize US-Cuban relations.

 Cuba by Walker Evans

Cuba by Walker Evans

Cuba by Walker Evans

In the spring of that 1933, Evans was asked by publisher J. B. Lippincott to produce a body of work about Cuba to accompany a book, The Crime of Cuba,by journalist Carleton Beals. It was intended to be an expose of Cuban President Gerardo Machado,yet another corrupt and rapacious American puppet. When Evans arrived in May, as he later wrote, Cuba was “in the midst of a revolution” and these images are from the end of the Machado dictatorship, who was gone by August

Transcuba by

Transcuba by

Transcuba by Mariette Pathy Allen

New York-based photographer and painter Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide for more than 30 years. Apparently under the newest regime the transgender community of Cuba is gaining some measure of acceptance. This tome also includes interviews and and a note from Director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana, Mariela Castro, who is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana (who happens to be Cuban President Raúl Castro’s daughter), and was instrumental in passage (2008)of the law to allowing transgender individuals to receive sex reassignment surgery and change their legal gender.[ed note; this was taken from my September 9 book notice]

Cuba by David Alan Harvey

Cuba by David Alan Harvey

Cuba by David Allen Harvey

Magnum photographer Harvey’s collaboration National Geographic staff writer Elizabeth Newhouse is an excellent survey of life in contemporary Cuba. See gallery of photos here

Havana by Robert Polidori

Havana by Robert Polidori

Havana by Robert Polidori

Robert Polidori‘s frequent appearances in the New Yorker, should make his focus on human habitats and environments apparent as do his monographs on VErsailles, post Katrina New Orleans, Chernobyl, Beirut (Points Between…Up Till Now his latest tome includes samples of from those series).To quote his publisher

In this city the peddler lives where the countess once resided; children dance and tumble where merchants conducted their business. Each photograph is a discovery and a fragment of the city’s biography.

View some of the Havana photos here

Before Night Falls by Julian Schnabel

Shot in the Dominican, Schnabel manages to capture the feel of the Triumphant Revolution and its not-so-triumphant aftermath. Javier Badem won an Oscar for his portrayal of poet Reinaldo Arenas.

Our Man in Havana by Sir Carol Reed

Graham Greene’s lampoon of incompetent secret services and secret police (later artfully mimicked by John LeCarre in Our Tailor in Panama) was shot in Havana with a young Alec Guiness, Noel Coward and US funny man Ernie Kovacs) Reed did leave out the live sex show that was mentioned in the novel.

Currently reading There Must Be Some Mistake by Frederick Barthelme (Little Brown)

Our Jew In Havana

3 Feb

I first became aware of the sad story of Alan Gross, a 62 year old American Jew who has been languishing in a Cuban prison since December 2009, when I chatted with Cuban-born historian and memoirist Carlos Eire.This was by way of his illustrating the unceasing, relentless oppression existing under the triumphant Cuban Revolution.

Though I once a believer in the righteousness of the Cuban Revolution ,I have since come to understand that noone is on the side of the angels in the long history of Cuban-American relations. Most reports of the Gross case (previously I have only read American coverage)staunchly (if not avidly) proclaim the cruelty and injustice being visited on poor Mr Gross who, when one hears the details of his life ( heart condition,daughter with cancer,lost life savings) becomes a latter day Job.

While I do advocate the release of poor M.r Gross it seems there are some additional factors to consider—which is to say that case is not exactly the way it has previously been portrayed John Perry at the London Review of Books reviews the Gross case and points out:

It suits the US government to portray Gross as an innocent aid worker who over-stepped the mark in an authoritarian state. But USAID is known throughout Latin America as a front organisation for the State Department’s political agenda. Part of its work is genuine aid, but much of its so-called democracy building is aimed at undermining governments that the US regards as wayward or undesirable.

Perry then quotes former US NAtional Security Council staffer Fulton Armstrong:

…he poured scorn on the USAID programmes and the use of a ‘covert operator’ such as Gross. He says that the programmes are an enormous waste of money, employing people who are not fully briefed and don’t understand the country. Furthermore, Washington evidently knows what its operators may not, that the Cuban government has thoroughly penetrated the programmes and knows exactly what people like Gross are doing.

What is one to think now? Maybe its a good time to read Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana or John Le Carre’s Our Tailor In Panama—both also very amusing films.

Currently reading A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe (Atlantic Monthly Press)

This and That

20 Apr

One of the more cherished legacies of Spy Magazine is the coinage of the phrase and its attachment to New York real estate huckster Donald Trump. These days there is an inglorious din in the media shitstream coming from the attention paid to Trump, grugged psycho Charlie Sheen and congressional viper and Ayn Rand devotee Paul Ryan. So much so, that you may have missed some interesting items that actually can be categorized as news.

Cuba’s first Communist Party assembly in 14 years brought some attention to Uncle Sam’s feisty little nephew in the Caribbean giving the usual suspects the opportunity to trot out predictable and stale rhetoric. Which makes this an opportune time to mention Yoani Sanchez and her newly published Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today (Melville House).The much celebrated Sanchez is a young woman who has been hosting a Havana based weblog Generation Y which simply reports what life is like in Havana today—reportage which has made her troublesome to the current regime

And speaking of Cuba, my conversation with Havana born,Yale historian Carlos Eire revolves around his two memoirs—the award winning Waiting for Snow in Havana, and his latest, Learning to Die in Miami. You can find that chat over at The Morning News.

Jennifer Egan has achieved wide-spread laudation for her latest novel Visit from the Goon Squad—not the least is the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, I’ve chatted with Ms Egan a number of times over the years, latest being last summer. You can also find that tete et tete at the Morning News.

There is lots to be said about David Foster Wallace’s recently pots humously published opus The Pale King (Little Brown) And apparently everyone of a literary bent is trying to say it. I’ve had my say here and of all the commentary and ululating about Foster Wallace’s genius and whatever, his editor Michael Pietsch has some useful and valuable things to say about how he made sense out of the inchoate mass of papers David Foster Wallace left behind.

Brilliant Christopher HItchens, of course, plays out his role as an iconoclastic icon with much brio and alacrity. The maturation of his politic did cause him to be become alienated from his progressive comrades and his legions of lefty fans. Now, battling cancer, suggests that his body of work may be limited by his mortality (and thus cheating his readers and the public cultural conversation of a genuine and original voice. His recent piece on the upcoming British royalty nuptials is a wonderful reminder of his mastery of limber and sharp edged prose and a prodigious memory keenly attuned to the whole wide world. I spoke with HItchens over ten years ago, one before the crucible of 9/11 and once after.

These days there seems no end to the efforts to conceive and publish small literary journals. Thus bookstore chain bankruptcies not withstanding while it may be all gloom and doom for the commerce of literature. the ranks of commentators are swelling. The latest entry being the Los Angeles Review of Books which is a good thing especially since the neophyte journal has not yet offended anyone.

Chicago chef Grant Achatz, whose battle with cancer is well noticed has written about his experience in Life, on the Line: A Chef’s Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat with Nick Kokonas (Gotham Books). Achatz also recently made news by selling tickets to his restaurant Next sparking the headline,”Bidding Frenzy for Tickets to Eat at Next in Chicago” and an article in the New York Times.

My chat with Carlos Eire makes mention of the sad case of Alan Gross, an American recently sentenced to 15 years in a Cuban prison— this after spending a year incarcerated without charges. Gross’s family is leaving a seat open for him at their Passover seder as his wife Judy asks for her husband’s release. Good luck with that.

If you have any influence or concern about Gross’s imprisonment, by all means, do something. That’s all, folks.

Free Alan Gross

15 Mar

The disaster(s) in Japan, of course, dominate the news in the past few days. I found it interesting to note in Slate’s daily aggregated news bulletin that one story estimated over 10,000 dead and the next headline told of a man swept out to sea and rescued from his ordeal as he was found floating on the roof of his house . I guess that is good that news can still report on the many and the one.

Perhaps it was the reports from Japan, tweets from Charlie Sheen, the NFL lockout, March basketball hoopola and whatever Kim Kardashian was doing that obscured the news of the grievous depredation visited on one American Alan Gross by the Cuban justice system. Gross a 60 year old man in poor health who had been languishing in a Cuban prison without being charged for over a year was finally tried and convicted and sentenced to 15 years in a prison. For bringing cell phones and laptops to the tiny Jewish community in Havana, Allan Gross was charged with and found guilty of “working on a “subversive” U.S.-sponsored project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist system,”

Here is one of the State Department’s PJ Crowley’s last official acts before being forced to resign for his remarks on the brutal treatment of the alleged Willileaker Manning:

We deplore this ruling. Alan Gross is a dedicated international development worker who has devoted his life to helping people in more than 50 countries. He was in Cuba to help the Cuban people connect with the rest of the world. As Secretary Clinton said, “Alan Gross has been unjustly jailed for far too long. We are deeply concerned about his and his family’s well being.”

We call on the Government of Cuba to immediately and unconditionally release him. To allow him to return to his family, and bring to an end the long ordeal that began well over a year ago.

I first heard of Gross’s case when I spoke with historian Carlos Eire last December ( a conversation which will published shortly) Eire told how Gross’s family had been impoverished by his legal struggle forcing his wife to move into public housing and, to add another dimension of suffering to his (biblical )plight, Gross’s daughter had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.

There is speculation that Cuba would be willing to exchange Gross for the five Cubans currently convicted and jailed for failing to register as foreign agents. By the way, Saul Landau has a different view of Gross’s case alleging his intention to “undermine the Cuban government” and wondering how he acquired the equipment he was distributing since it was highly unlikely Cuban customs would have missed them in his luggage.

In any case, something should be done in the case, expedite an exchange or free Gross for time served.

Contact your Congressman or Senator.

Free Alan Gross

9 Dec

I had a lengthy and if I recall correctly, wide-ranging chat (a transcript of which should see the light of day,uh, soon) with Yale mentor Carlos Eire, who has written two memoirs, one about his pre revolutionary childhood in Cuba, Waiting for Snow in Havana (which won a National Book Award in 2003), and then in Learning to Die in Miami recounts growing up in the US as a part of the 14000 Cuban children airlifted (known as Operation Peter Pan) to Florida and dispersed throughout the country.

In the course of our tet a tet Eire mentioned the case of Alan Gross, an American Jew who in bringing lap tops and cell phones to the minuscule Jewish community in Havana was arrested and has been held with being charged for a year. Gross is in poor shape (he has lost 90 pounds and suffers several health problems) and reportedly his wife has exhausted their resources in her fruitless efforts to arrange her husband’s release.

To add an extra dimension of pain to Gross’s travails , this past summer Gross’s daughter , who is in her twenties was diagnosed with cancer.

This poor man has apparently (there are occasional news reports) has been left to languish in a Cuban military hospital, in violation of every international standard of justice and due process.

Can’t we,anyone, do something?