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The Five Best Books on Cuba

It’s only 90 miles from the U.S., but to most Americans, Cuba could be on the moon. Here are five books that make the terra slightly less incognita.

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‘Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy’ by Carlos Eire. 400 p. Free Press. $5.60.

Eire was one of thousands of children airlifted as part of Operation Pedro Pan from Cuba in 1962. His painful memoir, which won the National Book Award, depicts a vibrant and colorful prelapsarian Havana before it is swept asunder by the terror of the Castro regime. WO

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‘The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba’ by Julia Cooke. 248 p. Seal Press. $12.96.

Decades later, any optimism in the aftermath of the revolution has long since dissipated. Depressing is really what Cuba has become—repression, bureaucracy, and crippling poverty. Cooke, a journalist, captures the island’s sad state of affairs through portraits of Cubans she met while living there for five years. WO

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‘Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro's Cuba’ by Tom Miller. 384 p. Basic Books. $13.96.

If the tragedy of modern Cuba is on full display in Cooke’s account, its enduring hopefulness is captured in Miller’s. Miller’s fun and engaging story of his eight months on the island introduces readers to the country’s intellectual elite, criminals, and ordinary citizens. National jokes about Castro, food, and the embargo are shared as he tells the story of the people on receiving end of the U.S. and Cuba’s policies. It also focuses on some of the nation’s success, such as its health care. WO

The Boys From Delores
Patrick Symmes (Vintage)

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‘The Boys from Dolores: Fidel Castro's Schoolmates from Revolution to Exile (Vintage Departures)’ by Patrick Symmes. 368 p. Vintage. $12.68.

The Castro brothers were among a generation of Cuban boys groomed and educated at the Colegio de Delores, an elite school charged with turning out Cuba’s future leaders. This it did, and by studying the school and its graduates, Symmes is able to track a generation of burgeoning leaders as they experienced—and in some cases fomented—revolution, regime change, and, in many cases, exile. MJ

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‘Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost’ by Paul Hendrickson. 704 p. Vintage. $12.32.

This is mostly a book about the author Ernest Hemingway, but because he is the American writer most closely associated with the island, where he lived for many years, and where the Pilar, the boat of this book’s title, still resides, this book has a peculiar resonance in the light of current events, particularly in the shrewd way Hendrickson, as James Salter has written, bequeaths to “Havana itself—its bars, cafés, the Ambos Mundos Hotel, the ease of its life and dedication to its vices—a bygone radiance, a vanished city before its puritan cleansing by Castro.” MJ