Tag Archives: Jon Lee Anderson

CUBA SI

22 Aug

 

So,  the Bedlamite regime has cast an evil spell/toxic pall on  America, like the thumb blocking out the sun, dominating the daily news cycle and social media for nearly two years. Exacerbating an already sketchy level of interest of matters global. A recent report which claimed that Cuba had been targeting US diplomats  quoted a 2007 State  Department’s Inspector General’s  64-page report asserting

 

that the U.S. diplomatic mission in Havana suffered from poor morale as a result of the Cuban government’s deliberate efforts to create hardship and discontent in the lives of the diplomats. “Retaliations have ranged from the petty to the poisoning of family pets. The regime has recently gone to great lengths to harass some employees by holding up household goods and consumable shipments. The apparent goal has been to instigate dissension within USINT ranks.”

And this news item was a reminder that the world has kept turning despite the antics of our vulgarian POTUS.

 

 

 

 

I have an unusual if not special connection to Cuba. As an immigrant boy living in Chicago, Illinois in the late 50’s, a coalescence of things brought Cuba to my impressionable mind. Whenever snatches of music got past the rising mania of Elvis Presley, it tended to be Latin— Prez Prado, Xavier Cugat even Desi Arnez and soon after Dizzy Gillespie’s Afro Cuban explorations. And then the overthrow of US sponsored thug Fulgencio Batista brought a cadre of hirsute guys variously known as Fidelistas or the Bearded Ones onto the world stage. Perhaps the first time in recent memory that revolutionaries were (briefly) embraced by their Uncle Sam.

So since that time, things Cuban have always had an allure for me. And as my preoccupation ripened as I became familiar with the richness of Cuba culture and gustatory delights from fulsome cigars to the island’s rums…so it did not escape my attention that on 26 July not was made of the anniversary*of Cuba’s revolution, entitled The 26th of July Movement. So called because Fidel cars led an unsuccessful attack on the Army’s Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba in July 1953. Defeat notwith- standing, Cuba celebrates that attack as a national holiday taking three days off.

US aggression or inattention, Cuba continues to avoid the pitfalls of a dreary socialist state which, it should not go unsaid, is amazing. Among other things, author Leonardo Padura’s noir quartet has served as the foundation of the Four Seasons in Havana series on Netflix And

And Padura’s latest novel, Heretics, is a robust narrative touching on the infamous SS St Louis incident of 1940, a wandering Rembrandt painting and the changing face of pre revolutionary Cuba. Jon Lee Anderson lucidly profiled Padura in The New Yorker which is worth reading as Jon Lee and is a reliable reporter and knows Cuba

 

 

Heretics by Leonardo Padura

In fact, Anderson’s biography of Che Guevera is an insightful snapshot into recent Cuban history. Add Ned Sublette’s Cuba and Its Music and The American Slave Coast

 

and one can begin to fill in the compelling history of the largest island in the Antilles.

Of course, if you really want to immerse yourself in depths of Cuba’s presence in the history of the Western hemisphere, there is English historian Hugh Thomas’s magisterial opus, Cuba: Or the Pursuit of Freedom  published in 1971 running more than 1700 pages is the authoritative source

 

Today’s Cuba is not all old cars and cigar smoking, guitar strumming campesinos, as a recent exhibition at the Pérez Art Museum Miami makes clearOn the Horizon: Internal Landscapes** was dedicated to contemporary Cuban art created on the island and intends to be the launch of a series.

 

 

 

 

However, Cuba is presented in the news and whatever the conventional understanding of Cuba’s place in world history, one should always keep in mind that Fidel made a career out of pulling on Uncle Sam’s nose and thus he gained great credibility and admiration around the world…

 

 

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* http://www.lahabana.com/content/july-26-1953-anniversary-of-the-attack-on-moncada-barracks/

 

** https://hyperallergic.com/387021/cuban-artists-find-escape-and-entrapment-in-the-sea/?

View story at Medium.com

 

 

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True Dat: An Oral Biography

21 Jul

 

While understanding the appeal of biographies I have not found that the door stop comprehensive tediously factual compendia of a life (even of an admired or world historical personage) bear the weight of such attention— though Ben Bradlee managed to write a weighty tome about Ted Williams that held up well through its 800 plus pages. The concise biographical essay (around 200 pages) by a sympathetic writer introduced in a series by James Atlas seemed to me to adequate for most general (those not seeking to bathe in the minutiae of a life).

 

 

There is another approach to biography that in the two instances that I encountered them I found extremely effective— the oral biography. Crystal Zevon’s assembly of commentators on her late husband I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon and Robert Altman: The Oral Biography by Mitchell Zuckoff. There are, of course, a number of reasons why these two lives lent themselves to the oral history approach, not the least being the outlier, colorful personalties of Zevon and Altman.

 

 

 

 

Except for Che (Guevara), no one comes to mind who has greater cross generational universal appeal than Bob Marley. Setting aside the fact import of more than 500 books devoted to the late Jamaican musicIan, his image adorns more consumer products than one can reasonably imagine (except Swatch watch only  a Che adorned wristwatch. And it is the complexity and wide reaching appeal that Bob Marley generated in his few 36 years before succumbing to cancer that makes So Much Things to Say: The Oral History of Bob Marley by Roger Stevens both exponentially useful and definitive

 

 

Roger Steffens is one of the world’s leading Bob Marley experts. In compiling this biography in over 40 years he interviewed more than seventy-five friends, business managers, relatives and confidants of Bob Marley. As an early adopter of reggae music Steffens was present t the creation and with the zeal and determination of the true believer he draws out the telling stories from Marley’s original group the Wailers ( Junior Braithwaite, Beverley Kelso and Cherry Green) as well as his intimate relationships (wife Rita Marley and long time companion Cindy Breakspeare.)

 

 

As we should expect, Steffens elicits little-known stories, about of some of Marley’s songs, the Wailers’ difficulties with  producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, singer Johnny Nash’s  mentoring and the assassination attempt (see Marlon James novel), which led to Marley’s   stirring performance two nights later still carrying the bullet embedded in his arm.

So Much Things to Say allows to witness Marley’s conquest of a planet wide audience— for example, his visit to Zimbabwe to sing for freedom fighters  and a host  of other international public appearances. Clearl,y Marley packed a substantial life in his three and a half decades. Most compelling are  the accounts of Marley’s post Cancer (controversial) diagnosis and his rapid decline. Bob Marley (1945-1981).

Even a cursory viewing of a Bob Marley concert video will provide one of  those light  that get through the cracks and that he gained sufficient cultural/political valence to occasion conspiracy theories about the alarmingly late cancer diagnosis, ties to the CIA and casting shadows on Chris Blackwell, Island Records owner. Bob Marley’s  musical legacy is inestimable (as you can get a taste of in the videos I have included ) and if you are inclined  to attend to 464 pages (including 40 pictures) about a remarkable life, this should be the one.

 

 

 

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1.Serviceable Online biography of  Bob Marley… https://www.biography.com/people/bob-marley-9399524

2. I should note that Jon Lee Anderson’s  biography of Che Guevara is exhaustive  accessibly with lots to recommend it as Anderson is  superb example of a disappearing calling— the foreign/war correspondent. Here’s a chat I had with him back in 1997 when his Che biography was freshly minted…https://ourmaninboston.wordpress.com/2015/02/08/talking-cuba-and-che-with-jon-lee-anderson/

Cuba Si, See Cuba

31 Oct

Revered Cuban crooner Beny More held a Frank Sinatra-like stature in  mid-century Cuban pop culture.

In the mid-Fifties, as an adolescent refugee growing up in Chicago, I  developed what has turned out to be a life long interest in Cuba—which has been amplified by an inchoate fascination manifest with the gem of the Caribbean in the USA at large. Since the recent detente (the Cuba Thaw) interest has grown exponentially. And as such there are always additions being made to a huge Cuba data base.

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Lee Lockwood: Castro’s Cuba, An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba, 1959-1969 

Young photographerLee Lockwood arrived in Cuba on December 31, 1958, one day before Fidel Castro ousted US puppet dictator Fulgencio Batista. Since then Lockwood has had unimpeded access to the island nation. In 1965 ,Lockwood conducted an in-depth interview over a seven days which stands as one of the more useful snapshots of the mind of Castro. This tome was originally published in 1967 and in its current 400 page iteration we have photographs  from the extensive period Lockwood traveled with Fidel,and  from  the special access to the Maximum Leader’s inner circle and a broad array of images from  Sierra Maestra military camps to life on Havana’s streets and  the endless political rallies and celebrations. Many of these images have never been published before. Historian/filmmaker Saul Landau ,whose films include the 1968 documentary, Fidel! provides elucidating commentary.

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Eschewing the role of a Castro apologist, Lockwood  explains his purpose for the book project.:

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“If he is really our enemy, as dangerous to us as we are told he is, then we ought to know as much about him as possible…I was amazed at the apparent discrepancies that existed between what was popularly being said and believed about Cuba in the United States and what I actually saw … After three weeks of traveling, including an eight-day, cross-country trip taken in Castro’s company, I could find little evidence of the standard image of Cuba so luridly painted by American newspapers and magazines — that of a crumbling economy, a populace in tatters and near starvation, and a political regime that had lost its popular support and was maintaining itself in power through oppression and terror. Instead, I found that, in spite of rationing, people were well-clothed and adequately fed, nearly everyone was working and had money and — contrary to all pronouncements by our State Department — Castro still enjoyed the support, even the affection, of the great majority of Cubans.

There is ample evidence that US attitudes and perceptions of Cuba are as suspended in the mid-century as the cars that transverse Cuban roadways…

Below some images from Castro’s Cuba…

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Esteemed translator Esther Allen (who is reportedly readying a biography of hemispheric iconic figure Jose Marti) offers a smart and useful  perspective on Lockwood’s work and the resonant role of Fidel. She concludes:

Classic twentieth-century dictators of all ideological stripes left statues of themselves in the central squares, to be gilded, pulled down, or both, by those who came after. Through more than half a century as the nation’s leader, Fidel never did. Lockwood’s photos now remind us of this: though he never learned to relinquish power, Fidel did somehow learn to disappear.*

 

If anyone is going to unpack the features of USA’s byzantine relationship  with Cuba and the dance steps of The Cuban Thaw Tango, Jon Lee Anderson is that person. A well-traveled journalist and no stranger to this planet’s sites of extreme belligerence, Anderson has penned the definitive biography of Che Guevera**  having established residence in Havana with his family  to research and write. His recent wide-ranging report*** includes this insight

In the Oval Office, Obama told me he believed that Americans needed to make a greater effort to acknowledge perceptions that exist outside the United States. “We are a superpower, and we do not fully appreciate the degree to which, when we move, the world shakes,” he said. “Our circumstances have allowed us to be ahistorical. But one of the striking things when you get outside the United States is—Faulkner’s old saying, ‘The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.’ . . . People remember things that happened six hundred years ago. And they are alive and active in their politics.

“And so the intention here is not, as the Republicans like to call it, engaging in apology tours. It is dignifying these countries’ memories and their culture, and saying to them, ‘We understand your experience and your culture, and that is valid.’ And, once you do that, if people think, he sees me, even if they disagree with you, there is an openness to having a conversation.”

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END notes

    *Esther Allen elucidates Lee Lockwood’s Castro ‘s Cuba

** Talking Cuba and Che with Jon Lee Anderson

***Jon Lee Anderson’s   “A New Cuba: President Obama’s plan normalized relations. It may also transform the nation”

 

Cuba Si : Anniversary of the Triumphant Cuban Revolution

26 Jul

Since 1959 , I have been interested in Cuba and its manifold attractions— the beginning a 12 year old’s admiration for the nascent ‘Triumph of the Revolution’. So many years later that fascination has held its place, though I do have a more balanced view of the Castro Brother’s regime. Now, with the long overdue restoration of diplomatic and other relations between the USA and CUBA, there is a heightened if not frenzied focus on the largest island in the Greater Antilles. So in honor the 26th of July,the Cuban anniversary of the beginning of its unshacking from Uncle Sam, here’s an idiosyncratic and unscholarly bibliographical primer on many things Cubano.

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba by Hugh Thomas

Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom by Hugh Thomas

Published in 1971, this authoritative survey is an excellent introduction pre revolutionary Cuban history .Thomas is particularly exhaustive on the nexus of the Atlantic slave trade and Cuba’s biggest cash crop, sugar.

Cuba and Music by Ned Sublette

Cuba and Music by Ned Sublette

Cuban and Its Music From the First Drums to the Mambo by Neal Sublette

Musician/musicologist Sublette has already made a major cultural contribution with his Qbadisc recording label.The first volume of a projected series is described by the publisher

This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Beny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evolution of music in the New World. The ways in which the music of black slaves transformed 16th-century Europe, how the claves appeared, and how Cuban music influenced ragtime, jazz, and rhythm and blues are revealed. Music lovers will follow this journey from Andalucía, the Congo, the Calabar, Dahomey, and Yorubaland via Cuba to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Saint-Domingue, New Orleans, New York, and Miami. The music is placed in a historical context that considers the complexities of the slave trade; Cuba’s relationship to the United States; its revolutionary political traditions; the music of Santería, Palo, Abakuá, and Vodú; and much more.

Smoke by Peter Balakian

Smoke by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball
by Peter Balakian

A History of Cuban Baseball by Peter Balakian

In addition to cigars and revolutionary ardor, baseball remains am important feature of Cuban life and Balakian has made telling that story his life’s calling.

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

Los Gusanos by John Sayles

There is a plenitude of great literature about Cuba and by Cubans. I found John Sayles’s novel Los Gusanos (the Cuban word for ‘worms’, the official revolutionary designation for exiles) about Cuban exiles particularly engrossing. Here Sayles chats with Bookworm Michael Silverblatt about the book I consider Sayles’s magnum opus.

The Man Who Loved Dogs  by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Padura

The Man Who Loved Dogs by Leonardo Paduro

Cuban novelist Padura, best known for his noirish detective series Havana Quartet featuring Lt Mario Conde, creates a compelling and engrossing literary narrative featuring Leon Trotsky and his assassin traveling from the Soviet Union to the Spanish CivilWar to Mexico and finally to Cuba. Read Jon Lee Anderson’s (Che profile of Padura,which is an education in recent Cuban states of affairs:

“The Man Who Loved Dogs,” a fictionalized account of Leon Trotsky and his assassin, Ramón Mercader, who lived out his days in Cuba after twenty years in a Mexican prison. For half a century, official Cuba has seen Trotsky as the Soviets did: a traitor rightly consigned to the dustbin of history. Padura’s treatment of Trotsky is highly sympathetic, and his telling of Mercader’s life exposes the hideous legacy of Stalinism, which for decades amounted to a state religion in Cuba. These views are uncontroversial in much of the world, but in Cuba they are radical. The dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote in a review, “There are books—I’m warning you—that open our eyes, such that we can never again sleep in peace.” Onstage, Padura acknowledged that he had frequently suffered from political anxiety: “Every time I finish a novel, I say, ‘This is the one they’re not going to let be published.’ ”

 Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Guillermo Cabrera Infante

Mea Cuba by Gulliermo Cabrera Infante

This is an anthology of some 60 articles written over a quarter-century and published in a variety of different periodicals. Despite some overlap and repetition, these essays and critiques are valuable snap shots of Cuban culture under the Castro reign. Cabrera Infante is an engaging polemicist with a penchant for the pun and an articulate opponent of the Revolution.My favorite piece is his recounting the great Cuban chess champion Capablanca‘s funeral.

Read Cabrera Infante (from a Paris Review interview) excoriating the Cuban Revolution:

There are too many people who go around saying that despite shortcomings the revolution has at least done a great job on education and public health. This is like praising Hitler for pulling Germany out of the economic quagmire of the Weimar Republic and exactly like those damned Italian trains that always arrived on time under Mussolini. Those fellow train travelers were saying this time that culture was now a big thing in Cuba because Fidel Castro had taught everybody to read and write. What’s the use of being literate if you lack the freedom to write, publish, and read what you want? The Sforzas, the Gonzagas, and of course the Medicis were upstarts and boors compared to this Cuban condottiere, this self-made patron of the arts and sciences. These were, of course, the lies of the land…

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Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louse Bardach

Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louse Bardach

Cuba:Literary Companion edited by Anne Louise Bardach

Bardach, author of a number of books relating to Cuba — Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington and Cuba Confidential, and the editor of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro assembles a thoughtful and useful compendium of Cuban literature. The seventeen selections include: Reinaldo Arenas, Alejo Carpentier,Calvert Casey, Christina Garcia, Pedro Juan Gutierrez. Jose Lezama Lima, Achy Obejas Vergilio Pinera and Zoe Valdes.

The Auto biiography  of  Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Auto biography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

The Autobiography of Fidel Castro by Norberto Fuentes

There are, of course, numerous biographies of Castro.Writer Norberto Fuentes, having spent many years as a close associate of Fidel, uses that experience to goo advantage to present a fictionalized autobiography. Tom Miller (Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba )writes:

Castro’s revolution was sui generis; nothing like it had ever happened before. Despite his dialectical approach to everything from inviting attractive women, the blonder the better, to assignations (“I don’t recall anyone ever turning down the invitation”) to organizing the Communist Party, much of what’s transpired since 1959 has been impromptu. He’s been winging it for more than half a century. Yet his Machiavellian philosophy, as laid out by Fuentes, has its own internal logic — instructive, perhaps, for military and intelligence strategists.

The book can be a slog, and it gets a little sloppy, but you never know if that’s Fuentes, or Fuentes channeling Castro, or a question of translation. I vote for the channeling theory. Since Castro has never written his memoirs, Fuentes’s version will have to do. Fidel couldn’t have written it better.

Movie poster for Before Night Falls

Movie poster for Before Night Falls

Before Night Falls by Renaldo Arenas

Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria (The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball) wrote

BEFORE NIGHT FALLS” is an autobiography that covers the span of Arenas’s life, from early childhood to his suicide letter blaming Castro for all of his calamities, including his death. It is an absorbing book, with the fascination one finds in stories by survivors of death camps or in lives of the saints. Arenas is betrayed by friends, spied on by fellow writers working for state security, beaten by lovers and jailers, coerced into signing vile confessions, forced to labor in stifling cane fields and compelled to “reform” sexually and politically. He is such a pariah that he must seek escape in the most spectacular ways, from an attempt to swim across Guantanamo Bay to reach the United States naval base there to braving the Florida Straits in an inner tube. All his tries are thwarted by vigilant authorities and informers. Once, fleeing the police, he hides for weeks in Lenin Park, a Communist theme park on the outskirts of Havana. There he spends his time writing the first version of these memoirs (his manuscript is later confiscated) and reading Homer, a flight from reality that necessarily ends every day as night falls (hence the title of his book). To lure people into turning him in, the police announce that a C.I.A. agent and rapist is on the loose. Arenas is careful not to be seen by anyone, but is eventually caught and barely saved from a lynch mob. In episodes such as these Arenas appears as a kind of Jean Valjean, and his book reads like a romantic adventure novel.

Arenas died of AIDS in New York City. He was 36 years old

Julian Schnabel’s brilliant film adaptation is a extraordinary complement to Arenas’s opus as well as a fine snapshot of Revolutionary Cuba.

By the way, Schnabel’s film features a fine soundtrack, including the immortal Cuban crooner Beny More (called by some Yanquis, the “Frank Sinatra of Cuba”)Here he sings the classic ‘Como Fue’

Here’s some more of More, also known in Cuba as El Bárbaro del Ritmo and El Sonero Mayor:

A Planet For Rent  by Yoss

A Planet For Rent by Yoss

A Planet for Rent by Yoss

Here’s a novelty, contemporary Cuban science fiction.

A Legend of The Future  by Augustin de Rojas

A Legend of The Future by Augustin de Rojas

A Legend of The Future by Augustin de Rojas

More Cuban science fiction.

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War   by Fernando Morais

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War by Fernando Morais

The Last Soldiers of The Cold War by Fernando Morais

The story of Cuban political prisoners finally freed in December 2014, after being held captive by the United States since the late 1990s.

 Listen Yankee by Tom Hayden

Listen Yankee by Tom Hayden

Listen Yankee: Why Cuba Matters by Tom Hayden and Roberto Alacron

SDS founder, author of the Port Huron Statement, tried in a Chicago federal court in 1969 as member of the “Chicago Eight”, formerly married to (Hanoi)Jane Fonda, Tom Hayden has been paying attention to Cuban affairs as long as he has been revolutionary student leader turned progressive social activist.This tome covers the writings of Che Guevara, Régis Debray, and C. Wright Mills; the Cuban missile crisis; the Weather Underground; the assassination of JFK; the strong historical links between Cuba and Africa; the Carter era; the Clinton era; the Cuban Five; Elián González; and the December 17, 2014 declaration of normalization by presidents Obama and Castro.

Here’s a piece of a longer conversation with Hayden:

The Domino Diaries  by Brin Jonathan Butler

The Domino Diaries by Brin Jonathan Butler

The Domino Diaries by Brin Jonathan Butler

Here’s the publisher’s description of Butler’s riveting tome:

This book is the culmination of Butler’s decade spent in the trenches of Havana, trying to understand a culture perplexing to Westerners: one whose elite athletes regularly forgo multimillion-dollar opportunities to stay in Cuba and box for their country, while living in penury. Butler’s fascination with this distinctly Cuban idealism sets him off on a remarkable journey, training with, befriending, and interviewing the champion boxers that Cuba seems to produce more than any other country.

In the process, though, Butler gets to know the landscape of the exhilaratingly warm Cuban culture-and starts to question where he feels most at home. In the tradition of Michael Lewis and John Jeremiah Sullivan, Butler is a keen and humane storyteller, and the perfect guide for this riotous tour through the streets of Havana.

Butler traveled to Cuba in2000 to interview several of Cuba’s Olympic champion boxers — Teofilo Stevenson, Felix Savon, Hector Vinent — for his documentary Split Decision, contrasting the boxers who stayed in Cuba with those like Guillermo Rigondeaux, who defected for the promise of riches.

Here, from an interview with Brin Butler:

You wrote that Cuban boxers’ struggles in the ring are intertwined with all Cubans’ struggles. Is that one of the reasons you wrote this book?

I think the beauty and mystery of boxing is just the immediacy of how it reveals people unlike anything else. In the United States in the 20th century, every major event that America was going through, there was a boxer who seemed to symbolically represent it, from slavery to the Vietnam War to the Depression — all the way along, you just seemed to have boxers that carried the narrative. I think in Cuba, it was the same, but midway through my journey in Cuba, you had these boxers who were meant to be entered into Fidel Castro’s symbolic chessboard against the United States, to fight his war against the American system.

What I found important while I was there was that so many of them were leaving, finally, and I thought if Castro’s gonna hold them up when they’re winning Olympic gold and turning down millions of dollars as being symbols of all the successes of the Revolution, you have to then balance the other side of the scale and say if they left, and then people supported their reasons for leaving, then it had to represent failures in the Revolution. That story wasn’t permitted to be told in Cuba.

Revolutionary Cuba A History  by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Revolutionary Cuba A History by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Revolutionary Cuba A History by Luis Martinez Fernandez

Surprisingly (quoting the book’s website):

This is the first book in more than three decades to offer a complete and chronological history of revolutionary Cuba, including the years of rebellion that led to the revolution. Beginning with Batista’s coup in 1952, which catalyzed the rebels it brings the reader to the present-day transformations initiated by Raúl Castro…

…[he examines the circumstances that allowed the revolution to consolidate in the early 1960s, the Soviet influence throughout the latter part of the Cold War, and the struggle to survive the catastrophic Special Period of the 1990s after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. He tackles the island’s chronic dependence on sugar production that, starting with the plantations centuries ago, continues to shape Cuba’s culture and society today. He analyzes the revolutionary pendulum that continues to swing between idealism and pragmatism, focusing on its effects on the everyday lives of the Cuban people, and–bucking established trends in Cuban scholarship–Martínez-Fernández systematically integrates the Cuban diaspora into the larger discourse of the revolution.

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life

José Martí: A Revolutionary Life by Alfred J. Lopez

There are some glaring gaps in English language Cuban scholarship This is first major biography of Martí (1853–1895) in over half a century and the first ever in English (there is another biography coming by the well regarded Esther Allen) which given Marti’s signifigance as the great pan American revolutionary and political thinker and a titan of Latin American letters, whose poetry, essays, and journalism still rank among the most important works of the region. Lopezs uses original Cuban and U.S. sources, including materials never before used in a Martí biography, López strips away generations of mythmaking and portrays While Martí was Cuba’s greatest founding father and one of Latin America’s literary and political giants, Lopez presents a clear eyed view including Marti’s rarely acknowledged missteps and personal flaws.

The Double Life of Fidel Castro   by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

The Double Life of Fidel Castro by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Lider Maximo by Juan Reinaldo Sanchez

Here’s a made for the movies story or to quote the Daily Beast review “A new trash-talking biography by a disaffected bodyguard who says the Cuban leader owns houses galore, can’t dance, and always has to win when he shoots hoops.” Juan Reinaldo Sanchez,worked for Fidel for 17 years and now presents his memoir of those years. When he tried to retire 1994, displeasing the Lider maximo Castro, he was imprisoned and tortured. He managed to defect in 2008.

When Henry Kissinger was in The People’s Republic of China negotiating the Sino-American detente, he inquired of Chou En Lai Chinese Foreign Minister and revolutionary stalwart, his view of the French Revolution. Chou reportedly replied, “Its too soon to tell.”

And finally non- pareil hot zone journalist Jon Lee Anderson recently opined

We are in an age when, in the Middle East and elsewhere, the United States has had to grapple with the appalling consequences of some of its more egregious geostrategic mistakes. In return, it has also had to accept a diminished role in certain aspects of the world’s affairs. In that context, Obama’s decision to find a way forward with Cuba was not a sign of weakness, but of strength.

Cuban Flag

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)