Heart warming story set in Kosovo and Canada
Short stories set in Cuba, plus more thoughts on cover design
10th May 2016
Breathe by Leila Segal, short stories set in Cuba.
“A beautifully observed collection of short stories. Breathe takes the reader beyond the artificial glamour of guidebook Cuba to paint a real and uncompromising portrait of modern day Cuba”
Cuba is on the cusp of significant change. A country, that has remained in a quaint time warp, is about to hit the 21st century with a bang. President Obama has visited, The Rolling Stones have played Havana. Unimaginable until now. So we are bringing together a couple of featured reads for those who want to embrace the country as it is now before it is “all change”.
Our featured read is Leila Segal’s Breathe, set fairly contemporaneously on the island, short stories, bound together in a book of around 125 pages. It is the Cuba of peeling paint, downbeat lifestyles contrasted against the lives of foreigners. Yet, it is not an altogether depressing read, it is about observing humans interactions and, whatever the circumstances, there is a resolute determination to find some positives. It is the general quest for “a decent life”
“Officially you are not allowed to trade, but in Cuba everyone has to ‘resolver*’ (*get by)”. Internet has not been allowed in homes, so the Cubans have to tether when they can. Deprivation is a de facto part of life. There is a very deep sense that Havana is gearing up for the onslaught of more tourists, as she describes the colonial house renovations, and the sharp eyes of the people looking to make a quick buck. Detailing food from the Mamey (a sweet-tasting avocado) to melange (a soapy tasting potato), the author escorts you though the streets with an eye that is full of curiosity. Enjoy this vicarious “trip” to Cuba!
The impact of the cover for a book is something that we have picked up before (check out our post entitled “Are we being seduced by the covers?” This book cover in no way does justice to the content. The paperback book was on my desk for several days and innumerable people picked it up and variously said “What, are you doing – self help now?”… to …”Are you reading the Karma Sutra?” At first glance it could be either. If you just glance at the people at the bottom of the cover, they look as though they are perhaps engaged in an intimate act. On closer inspection, creepily, it transpires that one is an adult and the other a child. The background design is the Cuban flag, so that feels relevant (but the Cuban flag is actually bright red/blue/white – I was driven to check). But I cannot overall understand the thinking of choosing these durgy colours – they may be redolent of the wash on many buildings in Cuba, but they do not work on a cover. Red on ochre isn’t great either, you have to scrutinise the author’s name.
The cover attracts the reader’s gaze, it HAS to be engaging, hopefully to garner a purchase. This cover might sadly only encourage people to move on and that will be a real miss. Buy it anyway!
Tina for the TripFiction Team
For more books in Cuba, click on this link or try our selected books:
Slow Train to Guantanamo by Peter Millar for a bit of insight as he travels the Cuban tracks
Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood is part set in Cuba and is a beautifully evoked period in Hemingway’s life
Author Pico Iyer is one of the go-to authors to get a real feel for the country
And finally, check out the Waterstones blog, where we have chosen 10 top books to evoke Cuba.