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Posts Tagged ‘Fidel Castro’

Kid Chocolate

June 19, 2015 | by

Cuba’s boxing culture.

At the Rafael Trejo boxing gym. Photo: Brandon Downey, Monster in the Ring, 2013.

In Old Havana, the names of the streets before the revolution provided a glimpse into the city’s state of mind. You might have known someone who lived on the corner of Soul and Bitterness, Solitude and Hope, or Light and Avocado. After the revolution, they changed the names and put up new signs, but if you asked directions from a local today you’d get the old names. They all meant something personal to the people who lived on those streets. That avocado grew in the garden of a convent. That hope was for a door in the city wall before it was torn down. That soul refers to the loneliness of the street’s position in the city. Sometimes these streets lead you to dead ends and other times you stumble onto cathedrals, structures built with the intention of creating music from stone. The sore heart Havana offers never makes you choose between the kind of beauty that gives rather than the kind that takes something from you: it does both simultaneously.

While guidebooks might tell you that time collapsed here, another theory says that in Latin America, all of history coexists at once. Just before the triumph of the revolution, progress took shape in ambitious proposals made by American architects to erect grand skyscrapers all along the Malecón seawall offering a fine view and convenient access to a newly constructed multicasino island built in the bay. To accommodate the gamblers, vast areas of Old Havana were to be demolished and leveled for parking access. In 1958, Graham Greene wrote, “To live in Havana was to live in a factory that turned out human beauty on a conveyor belt.” Yet this beauty the people of Cuba unquestionably possess walks hand in hand with their pain. Whoever you might encounter in this place lacking the ability to walk or even to stand for whatever reason will inevitably remain convinced they can dance. When Castro was put on trial in 1953 by Batista’s government and asked who was intellectually responsible for his first attempt at insurrection, he dropped the name of the poet José Martí. From the little I’d learned of it, the revolution’s hold on Cubans resembled not so much poetry as the chess term zugzwang: you’re forced to move, but the only moves you can make will put you in a worse position. Cuba had become an entire population of eleven million people with every iron in the fire doubling as a finger in a dike. Read More »

What We’re Loving: Carson, Hatterr, Fidel

February 8, 2013 | by


If you’re going to judge a book by its endpapers, then I recommend Julie Morstad’s The Wayside. I’ve spent a fair amount of time imagining them on the walls of the drawing room I don’t have. It helps that the rest of the book—all new drawings by the Canadian illustrator—is equal parts charming and strange. There’s definitely an Edward Gorey–esque feel to her work, but I also see occasional hints of William Pène du Bois (in a troupe of women acrobats) and Amy Cutler (in the wonderful patterned textiles). I think my favorite drawing may be a double gatefold depicting groups of flatly rendered performing-arts kids doing their thing. It’s Attic form meets Fame. —Nicole Rudick

In the early fifties, a married Cuban socialite has an epistolary romance with a dashing political prisoner. They meet for one night, and the woman bears his child. Meanwhile the young man, freed from prison, seizes command of the struggle against Batista and becomes ruler of their country. It sounds (and reads) like a novel, but Havana Dreams, Wendy Gimbel’s 1998 portrait of Naty Revuelta and her daughter Alina, is a work of intimate reportage, and the relationship of these two women to Fidel Castro takes on an uncanny symbolic weight. The book invaded my own dreams. —Lorin Stein Read More »


William Kennedy on ‘Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes’

November 29, 2011 | by

Revolutionary times fuel William Kennedy’s newest book, Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes, which follows the career of journalist Daniel Quinn. The novel’s first half takes place in 1957 Cuba, where Quinn gets writing advice from Ernest Hemingway (“Shun adverbs, strenuously”), falls in love with a gunrunner named Renata, and hikes through the jungle for the ultimate journalist’s prize—an interview with Fidel Castro. The second half finds Quinn, eleven years later, witnessing another kind of revolution, this one in his hometown of Albany after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, as the city hovers on the verge of race riots. The eighth novel in Kennedy’s Albany Cycle—which includes the Pulitzer Prize–winning IronweedChango’s Beads has a cast of characters that will feel familiar to readers of the earlier books, characters united by jazz, corruption, heroics, journalism, politics, and the perpetual revolution of history. I talked with the eighty-three-year-old Kennedy at his home in Albany—a townhouse where Jack Diamond, gangster, bootlegger, and the subject of Kennedy’s second novel, Legs, was shot to death. Read More »


North American Books I Read as a Child in Castro’s Cuba

October 19, 2011 | by

Havana, Cuba. Photograph by Jordi Martorell.

In the spring of 2007, I was invited to a dinner organized by The Paris Review in honor of Norman Mailer. The novelist had just published what would be his last novel, The Castle in the Forest, and would have a conversation with E. L. Doctorow. That evening, when Mailer entered the room, with his very distinctive mien—that of a rather solid and stout man who, because of his age, used two canes—I was deeply moved. I told him—what else do you say in those circumstances?—how much I admired his books and that I started reading them when I was very young, many years ago.

A few days later I told a friend about this experience. “But, how?” he acted surprised, “Did you read Norman Mailer in Cuba?” And added, “Wasn’t he supposed to be one of the banned North American authors on the island?”

My friend had imagined, perhaps for a good reason, that you couldn’t find American literature in Cuba, that it was banned because both countries were at more or less declared war, an openly proclaimed enmity. I patiently explained to him that nothing like this ever happened. Mailer’s books and those of many other North American authors were not censured in Cuba; in fact, they were widely sold. You could find them in every library; they could be read by everyone. Read More »


Staff Picks: Papa, Pig Earth

July 30, 2010 | by

What we’ve been reading this week.

  • I wrapped up A Farewell to Arms just in time to enjoy the Hemingway look-alikes at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Florida. Kudos to Charles Bicht, Papa 2010. —Stephen Andrew Hiltner
  • First published in 1935—but set in the 1880s—A House and Its Head is a late, obsidian instance of Victorian Survivor Literature. It concerns a tyrannical father, his idle grown children, and the young second wife he brings home to them. Imagine The Way of All Flesh written by a woman under the influence of Oscar Wilde. What I and everyone else especially like about Ivy Compton-Burnett is her dialogue. Her characters make asides, they soliloquize, they turn epigrams, and yet the effect isn't exactly stagey. (As Oscar liked to say, “Art doesn’t imitate life; life imitates Shakespeare, as best it can.”) —Lorin Stein

  • I visited Cuba for the first time in January. On Revolution Day, July 26, I read about Fidel Castro’s surprise appearance in public and the rest of the coverage of the holiday I could find. Unsatisfied, I found and read “Cuba—A Way Forward,” the riveting, deeply distressing report from Daniel Wilkinson, Deputy Director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch and Nik Steinberg, a researcher there, in the New York Review of Books. It makes me desperately sad to think about the amazing people I met in Havana that have almost no chance of reading Yoani Sánchez’s incredible blog, even though they live in Havana, as she does. Wilkinson and Steinberg are forceful and eloquent on the reality of the political situation in Cuba: “It is hard to think of a US policy with a longer track record of failure. The embargo has caused much hardship to the Cuban people but done nothing to loosen the Castros’ hold on power. Instead it has provided the Cuban government an excuse for the country’s problems.” —Caitlin Roper

  • I’ve been following the debate surrounding Odyssey, Andrew Wylie’s latest venture in publishing e-books with Amazon. As an observer, I find it upsetting that the publishing world is squabbling over backlist e-book rights. But do I blame them? The pie is shrinking for everyone. Except Amazon. —Thessaly La Force

  • I’ve been reading Pig Earth, John Berger’s cycle of stories, essays, and poems about peasant life in the Savoyard village where Berger settled with his family in the mid-seventies. This cycle is also a study in oral tradition, and of life in a place where nobody has any secrets. It is also—according to Wikipedia—a novel. But I’ll keep you posted. —L. S.