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Ten great books set in CUBA
31st May 2020
Cuba is the latest place for us to visit in our ‘Great books set in…’ series. Ten Great Books set in Cuba.
‘In Cuba and specifically in Havana there’s a sort of energy that turns every situation into something unexpected‘ – Fernando Perez
Here are those five great, varied books set on this enigmatic Paradise island, the largest in the Caribbean:
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest – until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…
Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth…
The Other Side of Paradise by Julia Cooke
Change looms in Havana, Cuba’s capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliche, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans.
Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santeria trainees, pregnant prostitutes, university graduates planning to leave for the first country that will give them a visa.
This last generation of Cubans raised under Fidel Castro animate life in a waning era of political stagnation as the rest of the world beckons: waiting out storms at rummy hurricane parties and attending raucous drag cabarets, planning ascendant music careers and black-market business ventures, trying to reconcile the undefined future with the urgent today.
Eye-opening and politically prescient, The Other Side of Paradise offers a deep new understanding of a place that has so confounded and intrigued us.
Breathe: Stories from Cuba by Leila Segal
Breathe is a collection that explores the heart of Fidel Castro-era Cuba; an outsider’s look that is balanced by a weight of empathy to illuminate truths that lie couched between the island’s propaganda and the Western media’s portrayal.
Characters from Europe and the USA in Swimming, Taxi and Sabbatical seem to want to hold on to the indulgences that their countries offer them, while praising Cubans for the more abstemious lives they lead and seeking to sample what the locals experience; in Siempre Luchando, I Never See Them Cry and The Party, romantic liaisons strengthen or buckle under the strain of the minute exploitations that result from the assumptions one makes about the other; the seedy sexual aggression of Luca’s Trip to Havana is undercut by the subtle yet intense lust of Breathe; while Leaving Cuba, with its closing image of Havana’s night sky, is as eloquently balanced a tale of the lives of everyday Cubans as you will read in a long while – whichever path one takes, something is lost.
Dreaming in Cuban by Cristina Garcia
Here is the dreamy and bittersweet story of a family divided by politics and geography by the Cuban revolution. It is the family story of Celia del Pino, and her husband, daughter and grandchildren, from the mid-1930s to 1980. Celia’s story mirrors the magical realism of Cuba itself, a country of beauty and poverty, idealism and corruption.
Dreaming in Cuban presents a unique vision and a haunting lamentation for a past that might have been.
Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene
Pre revolutionary Havana, where anything can be obtained by means. Greene skewers British Intelligence. James Wormold is a mild-mannered, marginal businessman and vacuum cleaner salesman, is approached by MI6 and is unwillingly recruited as “Our Man in Havana”.
As ever with Greene his characters are beautifully crafted.
Slow Train to Guantanamo by Peter Millar
It is an island more than 1000 kilometres long and was the sixth in the world (before its colonial master Spain) to have a national rail network. Cuba today feels like a nation at the end of a long, hard war. Peter Millar jumps aboard a railway system that was once the pride of Latin America and is now a crippled casualty case to undertake a railway odyssey the length of Cuba in the dying days of the Castro regime. Starting in the ramshackle but romantic capital of Havana, he travels with ordinary Cubans, sharing anecdotes, life stories and political opinions, to the far end of the island where he meets a more modern blot of American history, the Guantanamo naval base and detention centre.
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.
Last Dance in Havana by Rosanna Ley
Cuba, 1958. Elisa is only sixteen years old when she meets Duardo and she knows he’s the love of her life from the moment they first dance the rumba together in downtown Havana. But Duardo is a rebel, determined to fight in Castro’s army, and Elisa is forced to leave behind her homeland and rebuild her life in distant England. But how can she stop longing for the warmth of Havana, when the music of the rumba still calls to her?
England, 2012. Grace has a troubled relationship with her father, whom she blames for her beloved mother’s untimely death. And this year more than ever she could do with a shoulderto cry on – Grace’s career is in flux, she isn’t sure she wants the baby her husband is so desperate to have and, worst of all, she’s begun to develop feelings for their best friend Theo. Theo is a Cuban born magician but even he can’t make Grace’s problems disappear. Is the passion Grace feels for Theo enough to risk her family’s happiness?
Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith
Former Inspector for the Moscow Militsiya, Arkady Renko, is summoned to Cuba to identify a liquefying corpse, dragged from the oily waters of Havana Bay. Renko finds himself in a decaying country, the final recess of Communism – a place where Russia is despised, exotic rituals take precedence and unexpected danger meets bewildering contradictions. After a harrowing experience that has left Renko on the verge of suicide, this new mystery leads him on a trail of deceit that reaches international proportions, and gives him a reason to relish his own life again.
Three Trapped Tigers by Guillermo Cabrero Infante
This novel is a more modern, sexier, funnier, Cuban Ulysses. Centring on the recollections of a man separated from both is country and his youth, Cabrera Infante creates an enchanting vision of life and the many colourful characters found in steamy Havana’s pre-Castro cabaret society.
Which is your top title to transport you to Cuba? Do tell us in the comments below! And if you fancy more reads set on this beautiful, complex island, then just access the Tripfiction database
Andrew for the TripFiction Team
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