Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

Posted by nliakos on September 6, 2008

by Carlos Eire.  Free Press, 2003.

Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 Cuban children airlifted to the United States in 1962.  At the time, neither the parents nor the children had any inkling that their separation would last as long as it did, or that Fidel Castro would remain in power for as long as he did.  Carlos Eire went on to become a historian and an academic.  He married an American, had three children, and lives in Connecticut.  But the Elian Gonzalez affair in 2000, when Castro claimed that Elian should be returned to Cuba because all children should be with their parents, triggered the gush of memories that is this book.

Most of the book concerns Carlos’ memories from his ten years as a privileged younger son of a wealthy judge in pre-Castro Cuba; a few of them stem from his later years in America.  All are written in rich prose.  Eire has a flair for sharing the sensory details of his memories: the magical, colorful cloud of parrotfish in the sea, the taste of the Chinese man’s hotdogs, the sounds of religious items being smashed by the revolutionaries, the hot light of the Cuban sun….  He also develops the many characters in the book with affection and humor, such as his father, a fat man in baggy pants obsessed with collecting art and antiques whom Eire refers to as Louis XVI, since he apparently believed that he had been the French King in a former incarnation.

I was alternately appalled at some of the things that Carlos and his friends did, and that were done to them and others, and convulsed with laughter over their antics–sometimes simultaneously.  It was really hard for me to imagine a childhood like that.

I have always been rather more sympathetic to the Revolution than to the Cuban-American population in Miami and elsewhere which has lobbied incessantly against normalization of relations with Cuba, a tiny country which could not possibly harm the United States.  It seems that they do this out of pure spite, because it makes absolutely no sense.  Even as he describes his life of privilege and luxury in pre-Revolutionary Cuba, Eire remembers the poor dark-skinned boys who dived for money in the sea.  But I think that the poor, dark-skinned people of Cuba did not, for the most part, benefit much from the change in regime which enriched some and sent others into exile with two changes of clothes and one book.

I still think that the United States and Cuba should normalize their relations, but I have a lot more understanding of, and a bit more compassion for, the Cuban Americans who have thus far prevented it from happening.  And I am really glad that I read this treasure of a memoir.

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