Books to Read

No Way Home: A Dancer’s Journey From the Streets of Havana to the Stages of the World, by Carlos Acosta

Unlike many celebrity Cuban exiles, Acosta did not flee the island for political reasons nor is his memoir a rant against the current government. Rather, it is a candidly personal story of a mixed-race Cuban whose success at ballet leads him to a life abroad—in the U.S. and in Europe—and the bittersweet complexities of making a new life so far from one’s homeland.

Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana, by Ann Louise Bardach

This is an exhaustive and engaging exploration of what could be called the family feud (many of Miami’s core of anti-Castro politicians are relatives of Fidel Castro’s first wife) that comprises U.S.-Cuban relations.

This Is Cuba: An Outlaw Culture Survives, by Ben Corbett

Corbett probes the Cuban world of negocios or black market jobs, by which most officially employed Cubans earn their livings. A well-researched collection of travel reportage, and a compassionate look at the intricacies and contradictions of getting by inCuba.

Havana Dreams: A Story of a Cuban Family, by Wendy Gimbel

Gimbel has chosen an unusual way to tell the story of post-Revolution life in Cuba—through the story of Naty Revuelta, a mistress of Fidel Castro’s in the mid-1950s. Like many families, Naty’s (which includes a child of Fidel’s) is torn apart by the Revolution, with different members taking different sides and dispersing to disparate parts of the world. But Naty remains inCuba, from where she shares her revelatory and far-reaching story.

In Cuba, I Was a German Shepard, by Ana Menendez

This short story collection by Cuban-American Ana Menendez mixes harsh realism and magical realism as it probes the lives of its immigrant Cuban characters. The title story is by far the best, insightful and poignant and achingly sad.

The Island that Dared: Journeys in Cuba, by Dervla Murphy

Renowned Irish travel writer Dervla Murphy recounts her travels through modern-day Cuba as a single woman in her 80s, carrying only what will fit in her backpack. Shunning hotels and often even casas particulares, she arranges lodging on her own with locals she meets while out walking. A wise, witty, and inspiring (I’d like to be as adventurous as Murphy in my 80s!) book that adeptly weaves in historical research with personal travelogue, offering readers a true insider’s glimpse into Cuba.

Havana Fever, by Leonardo Padura

A rare find—a literary mystery and one of only a handful of books written by a Cuban still living on the island, which has managed to get published in the U.S. Havana Fever is the story of retired policeman Mario Conde who, to eke out a living in current-day Cuba, turns to acquiring and selling antiquarian books. Inside one such book, he finds an old newspaper clipping that leads him into a mystery that dates back to the days of pre-Revolutionary Cuba. This is a beautifully written book, with such visceral descriptions of Havana neighborhoods that I felt completely transported. It is also a psychologically astute work with sometimes heartbreaking insights into the Cuban psyche.

To Change the World: My Years in Cuba, Margaret Randall

American poet and activist Margaret Randall recounts her decade-plus of living in Cuba in the 1960s and 70s. Randall fully immerses herself in the new revolutionary society, volunteering with sugar-cutting brigades in the countryside, participating in neighborhood-organizing meetings, and raising her four children on the ration book. Despite her enthusiasm at being part of this social experiment, Randall does not shy away from casting a critical eye on all she sees and participates in, making for an exceptionally thoughtful recounting of a time of great change and optimism in Cuban history.

Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile : On the Road in Cuba, by Richard Schweid

Schweid skillfully and often surprisingly traces Cuban history from the Revolution to the present via the country’s cars.

Fidel: A Critical Portrait, by Tad Szulc

Although originally published in the 1980s, this is a timeless tome, still an essential read today for anyone hoping to understand how Fidel and the Cuban Revolution came into being—and how they fared in the following three decades.

Dirty Blonde and Half Cuban, by Lisa Wixon

Despite its contrived premise (an American learns on her mother’s deathbed that her real father is Cuban, setting off a chain of events, which leaves her stranded and moneyless in Havana and with sex tourism her only recourse), this is a very worthwhile read. The characters are realistic and multi-faceted, and the world of Cuban jineterismo is explored with empathy and an astonishing insight that belies the brief year Wixon spent living on the island.

Cubana: Contemporary Fiction by Cuban Women, edited by Mirta Yanez

In the 16 short stories included in this collection, the narrators use both traditional and experimental prose to portray post-Revolution (and largely post-collapse-of-the-Soviet-Union) Cuba in a realistic and non sentimental light. Strong of a collection as this is, all but one of the authors were born before the Revolution, so there is definitely a lack of younger voices.