Havana: A Subtropical Delirium

Bloomsbury USA. Mar. 2017. 272p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781632863911. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781632863935. TRAV
OrangeReviewStarKurlansky has moved on from food (Cod; The Big Oyster; Salt) and returned to the Caribbean. Former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro (1926–2016) is now gone, but his brother Raul is in charge, and the revolution lives. Kurlansky captures it all: how Cuba got to this point: the obliteration of the native Tainos, colonization by Spain, 19th-century independence movements, U.S. invasion, the American gangster period in Havana, and then the overthrow of President Fulgencio Batista. He continues with Castro's suppression of dissidents, the collapse of the Soviet Union and its ensuing Special Period, the opening up of Cuba to elements of capitalism, normalization of relations with its archenemy, the United States, and Castro's death. Kurlansky soberly reveals everything, warts and all. The Americans liberated Cuba from Spain, but their motives were hardly pure. Castro and his band of revolutionaries offered free health care and education for all, but had a difficult time providing basic foodstuffs. Gays were persecuted under the revolution in the 1960s, but now Castro's niece is a leading gay rights activist.
VERDICT This extremely readable book is not preachy, not dogmatic, not shrill. As in life, there is a mixture of both good and evil, and Kurlansky, a frequent Cuba correspondent, covers it well. [See Prepub Alert, 7/11/16.]
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