Meticulous Research and Elegant Narrative Style
Updated: Mar 11
Starred Review from Kirkus:
An intimate history of a “social paradise” that has sorely failed its people.
In his latest, DePalma, a former Latin America correspondent for the New York Times and author of The Man Who Invented Fidel (2006), delivers engaging alternating narratives delineating the lives of regular people during two decades of strife and deprivation. The author shares frankly his bias in this work of revelatory personal histories—his Cuban-born wife was spirited away to America in 1960—and through familial testimony and his own observations, he reveals a country in dire economic distress, its original revolutionary mythology in shambles. DePalma maintains a laser focus on a few ordinary Cubans, including Cary, who was born to a Jamaican migrant and went on to study economic engineering in Ukraine in the 1970s. She returned to a series of promotions in the Cuban workforce and started a family in Guanabacoa, a gritty warehouse neighborhood just across the harbor from Old Havana. Cary’s devotion to Fidel Castro’s revolution was unshaken throughout her life, and she was amply rewarded by the government with housing and health care. Yet by 1994, when the Soviet Union’s aid had dissolved and Cuba was undergoing intense economic hardship, street protests, and reckless attempts to flee the island, Cary recognized that “the classless society Fidel promised was a mirage.” Outside of Cary’s family, DePalma tracks Arturo Montoto, an artist who studied in Moscow and elsewhere, returning to Cuba deeply disillusioned and intent on skirting the system his own way; and several survivors of an ill-fated tugboat that was likely rammed by the Cuban coast guard in July 1994, killing more than 40 people (the Cuban government denied responsibility). DePalma’s fictionlike narrative moves thematically (Realization, Reconciliation, etc.), and the author is especially good at revealing the stunning adaptability of a people thwarted at seemingly every turn.
An obvious labor of love, years in the making, featuring meticulous research and an elegant narrative style.