Tripfiction: ten books set in Cuba
Cuba is on the brink of change. President Obama, who visted the island this month, will be the second sitting US President in history to go to Havana. Last July the USA relaxed travel and trade restrictions after 54 years and soon more than 100 planes will be flying in from the USA every day. Times certainly are changing for this small country.
Here is a list of ten books that capture the spirit of Cuba:
It seems fitting to start with an absolute classic. This is pre-revolutionary Havana, where anything is possible. James Wormold is a gentle businessman and vacuum cleaner salesman, who is approached by MI6 and is unwillingly recruited as “Our Man in Havana”. A beautifully crafted story with excellently drawn characters.
The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo
It is 1963, as the book opens, and Hurricane Flora has moved away from Haiti and is hitting Cuba. It is a phenomenon that is “bigger than all of Cuba”. Eighty-two year old Maria Sirena has taken refuge along with several other women in Casa Diego Velazquez, the sixteenth century home of the first governor of Cuba, and now a museum. To keep everyone's spirits up, she tells stories from her life.
Ever dreamt of going to Cuba? Well, with the help of Peter Millar and Slow Train to Guantanamo you can! Enjoy a travelogue via train right from the North to the South, with colourful stops along the way. This is a train line that stretches 1,200km and the average Cuban can travel the full length for the price of a can of beer – it might take days in the decrepit carriages brought together from East Germany and Russia, but it is certainly value for money.
King of Cuba by Cristina Garcia
This is the story of two cubans one, El Comandante, who lives in Havana, shambling around his old mansion, powerful and vindictive, while, Goyo, lives in exile in Miami, plotting his revenge. This is a witty, insightful story, full of humour that shows the two Cubas: one on the island and one off.
A set of short stories, bound together in a book of around 125 pages. This is the Cuba of peeling paint and downbeat lifestyles contrasted against the lives of foreigners. Yet, it is not an altogether depressing read, it is about observing human interactions and, whatever the circumstances, there is a resolute determination to find some positives. It is the general quest for "a decent life".
Part set in Ireland and Cuba, this is the story of three sisters, Louise, Emma and Sophie, who each has her ordained unconscious role to play within the first family, grappling with a self referring Mother and a Father who dotes on the youngest sister, Sophie. This is Cuba through fiction, a great introduction to Cuban culture.
While this novel is set outside of Cuba, and therefore breaks the rules somewhat, it captures the passion, the music, the dance and the rebellious spirit of the Cuban people - it is a Pulitzer prize-winning novel, written by a Cuban expatriate about the life of Cuban immigrants in New York and has plenty to teach a reader about the Cuban way of life.
Havana by Stephen Hunter
Havana in 1953 was all superficial glamour, intrigue, with a unique buzz, which attracted all kinds of people interested in a quick buck, and political gain. A combination of colourful characters and the wonderful backdrop of Cuba, this book makes for an interesting and satisfying read.
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.
Change looms in Havana, Cuba’s capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, just 90 miles from USA shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic combined with a waning era of political stagnation as the rest of the world beckons. This book offers a deeper understanding of a place that can still be enigmatic.
Tina Hartas is co-founder of www.tripFiction.com the resource for both actual and armchair travellers to “see a location through an author’s eyes”.