“It was a city to visit, not a city to live in, but it was the city where Wormold had first fallen in love and he was held to it as though to the scene of a disaster. Time gives poetry to a battlefield.” – Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana
When people think about Cuba in literature, one name springs to mind – Hemingway. The most famous novel about Cuba turns out to be by a non-cuban. Even in Havana, he is oft the most visible literary presence. it is hard to go anywhere without the constant reminder that you are following in Ernest’s footsteps, whether you are drinking a daiquiri with his statue at La Floridita or setting sail from the Ernest Hemingway Marina, is name is all around you.
However, there is a saying that “Cuba is a nation of poets” and if you dig a little deeper there are plenty of excellent Cuban novelists in Cuba’s short literary history, although translations can be hard to come by. My picks include a mix of both English language and Cuban books as well as non-fiction reads that will delve in to the tumultuous history of the Island.
Cuba: A New History
by Richard Gott
Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life
by Jon Lee Anderson
Revered in Cuba and reviled by some, Che Guevara has become a heroic figure and pop culture icon since his death in in 1967. This, the most thorough and enduring biography of Che, was first published n 1997 and is considered to be one of the most groundbreaking biographies ever written. So many books on Che are ideology driven, painting him as a deity or demon but Anderson manages to separate the man from the myth while giving insight in to Guevara’s role in events from the revolution to the cold war and Bay of Pigs invasion.
by Fidel Castro
A man that has survived 600 assassination attempts, outlasted 9 US Presidents and was fudemental in events such as the Cuban revolution and the Cuban missile crisis obviously has a very interesting story to tell. Through over 100 hours of interviews with journalist Ignacio Ramonet, Castro gives his take on aspects of his own life as well as his side of the story on issues such as `Bay of Pigs’, `The Cuban Missile Crisis’ and the `Special Period’.
Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boyhood
by Carlos Eire
This 2003 National Book Award winner is the nostalgic story of Eire’s childhood growing up in Havana. Just 9 years old when Castro took control and 11 when he was uprooted and airlifted to the US as part of Operation Pedro Pan, its a fascinating insight in to both pre-Castro Havana and seeing the revolution through a child’s eyes.
Trading With the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Casto’s Cuba
By Tom Miller
Spending 8 months traveling Cuba and following in the footsteps of Hemingway and Greene, travel writer Tom Miller delivers one of the best travelogues about the vibrant nation. He talks to everyone from government officials to ordinary citizens standing in line at 5 am for groceries, getting their view of subjects such as the US embargo, communism and even their favourite Castro jokes.
The Old Man and the Sea
By Ernest Hemingway
A literary classic and Nobel Prize winner, Hemingway’s masterpiece is a short but powerful read. Set off the coast of Havana, an old man sets sail for a day of fishing and gets the catch of a lifetime. It’s also worth considering his posthumous novel ‘Islands in the Stream’.
Our Man in Havana
By Graham Greene
Greene manages to capture the essence of pre-revolutionary Cuba in this incredibly funny, absurd and atmospheric “spy” drama. It is a meandering story about a vacuum cleaner salesman caught up in the world of MI6, purely to buy his daughter a pony for her birthday and a humorous take on 50’s cold war espionage.
Dreaming in Cuban
By Cristina Garcia
This Cuban-born American writers first novel tells the story of how three generations of a family are divided by differing political allegiances and how staying in Cuba or fleeing will affect their lives. The New York Times says it is ” a work that possesses both the intimacy of a Chekhov story and the hallucinatory magic of a novel by Gabriel García Márquez.”
Before Night Falls
By Reinaldo Arenas
Arenas’ memoir tells the story of his journey from poverty stricken childhood in rural Cuba to his persecution for both his writings and his sexuality and having to flee to the United States. A Story that involves fighting for the revolution, imprisonment and torture. Now a feature film starring Javier Bardem and Johnny Depp.
Dirty Havana Trilogy
By Pedro Juan Gutierrez
Often described as a Cuban Irvine Welsh or Bukowski, Gutierrez’s most famous novel explores the more depraved side of Cuba. Each chapter is a self contained scene, documenting the adventures of Havana’s seedier inhabitants.
What do you think? If you have any further reading suggestions or want to give your opinions on the books listed above, feel free to write a comment below. In the meantime, check out my Goodreads profile.
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