Sunday, November 30, 2014

Travel the World in Books "Cuba" Selection

For Nonfiction November, Tanya of Mom's Small Victories and I paired up to read Carlos Eire’s book Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. We were also reading this book as the “Cuba” selection for our Travel the World in Books Reading Challenge.

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. 

My Thoughts:
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.

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)
His skin color changed in the US:
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.

Bottom line:
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?

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  1. I am quite curious about this book now, well done!

  2. Great review! I've seen this book from time to time over the years (I work in a public lib.) - I've always wondered about it. Thanks for letting us know your thoughts.

  3. I really loved this memoir, as did most of my book group. I always enjoy memoirs, especially coming-of-age ones, but I thought the setting in Cuba and historical background made this one extra fascinating.

    Great review! I found your post through Small Victories Sunday.


    Book By Book

  4. Thanks for joining me in this read. Honestly, I haven't written my review so I didn't read your entire review until I have written mine. But thanks for sharing with Small Victories Sunday linkup! New linkup starts tonight at 8pm and hope you'll join us again. I will come back when I've written my review to leave a better comment :)

    That part I was waiting for didn't come till the very end! It was driving me nuts !

  5. I love reading books set in other eye-opening. I read this a few years ago and believe I enjoyed it.

  6. This sounds fascinating!

  7. See, I wonder if I would get the opposite impression. I dislike setting descriptions and feel they take away from the movement and/or drag the book down a lot. I love, however, when people divulge inner problems and secrets. I think it makes the world go 'round, these stories of failure and often I can feel the emotion of the author more clearly, no doubt because they are invested in their flaws, like most of us.

    Awesome review! You are the bomb at book reviews!

  8. Oh, I really like the sound of this one.... Yet I feel like I too would be bored of it. I am going to suggest it to the teen who EATS books...... She is all over politics and what not and this may be a gentle slide into it for her. I would like to read it to know what Cuba was like. It is a destination both my Hubs and I would love to travel to..... Great review, thanks again for sharing and bring us books we would not usually read.

  9. History and politics, I feel, are what shape our lives. While studying them is worthy and can help us understand how people lived, the anecdotes are what bring it to life. Even if he doesn't mention or delve into the subjects, the repercussions on his life are the important part. I'd think anyways. The application is the most important part of politics... how they change the day to day lives of people.