What is Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy about?
Triggered by the Elian Gonzales affair Carlos Eire, one of the 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in 1962 – exiled from his family, his country and his own childhood by the revolution has written a memoir about his childhood growing up in Cuba.
Carlos Eire was born into a privileged Cuban family. His father is a wealthy judge who believes he is a reincarnated Louis XVI and that his mother is Marie Antoinette. Carlos’s days are filled with private schools, birthday parties, movies and swimming pools. He shares story after story of his childhood antics stealing toy soldiers, lighting off firecrackers, throwing rocks, breadfruit and almonds, while taunting the underprivileged, lizards and a chained monkey.
His idyllic childhood comes to an end when Fidel Castro ousts President Batista. Christmas is made illegal, he is no longer allowed to view his favorite movie, his neighbors and relatives are forced to turn over their businesses and life savings to the state and his cousin and uncle have been arrested. Fearing her sons are in danger his mother ultimately sends them to the US.
Carlos Eire’s descriptions of Cuba are exquisite. I was reminded of my Caribbean vacations and could easily picture the turquoise water and feel the warm sun. I also have a better understanding of Cuban life pre-and post-revolution, the Bay of Pigs incident and Castro’s idea of communism. I had no idea 14,000 children refugees were sent to the US without their parents prior to reading this book or how difficult it was for these children to become acclimated to life in the U.S. once here.
Two of Carlos’s observations about differences between his life in Cuba and the U.S. I found interesting are:
Why his parents had so much free time:
Rearing three children of my own has made me wonder about my parents and the lives they led. Especially because my wife Jane, and I have done it without relatives, nannies, or baby-sitters of any kind. My parents had one nanny for each child, a maid to do all the housework, one grandmother, one great-aunt and one aunt in the house.His skin color changed in the US:
No wonder my dad could type labels for each of his objects, make kites, referee rock fights and take us car surfing. No wonder my mom could make us costumes for parties and spend so much of her day designing and making clothes. There wasn’t even a lawn to mow. Plenty of tiles and plenty of canteros, or planting beds, full of foliage and flowers, but no lawn. How I’ve envied them sometimes, my parents, especially after three hours of mowing. All that time they had on their hands. (Pgs. 158-159)
They’d been right after all, those who told me that dark food couldn’t turn you into an African. What they didn’t know was that it would take only one brief plan ride to turn me from a white boy into a spic. And I’m reminded of it every time I have to fill out a form that lists “Hispanic” as a race, distinct from “white” or “Caucasian.” (Pg. 160)I still can't understand why Louis XVI chose to stay behind. Did he really prefer his collections and Cuba over his wife and children? Or did he believe Castro would be overthrown and his family would eventually come home? I don't think Eire knows for sure himself, but he does change his last name to Eire, his mother's maiden name, once settled in the U.S, so he obviously didn't forgive him.
Unfortunately, this book tends to drag. Eire writes his story based on memory rather than chronologically, so at times you are not quite sure if he is in Cuba or the US or if it's pre-Castro or after Castro. Plus, it seems Eire feels the need to confess every one of his boyhood sins. I became bored with these antics after a while and feel the story would have been better if he'd left a few of them out.
Despite its flaws, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy was a good “Cuba” selection for my Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge. I recommend this book if you enjoy coming-of-age memoirs about boys or are looking for a book from an insider that takes place during Castro’s Revolution. If you prefer books heavy on history or politics I’d probably skip this one.
Have you read or can you recommend any books that take place in Cuba?