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Change looms in Havana, Cuba's capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santería Change looms in Havana, Cuba's capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santería trainees, pregnant prostitutes, university graduates planning to leave for the first country that will give them a visa. This last generation of Cubans raised under Fidel Castro animate life in a waning era of political stagnation as the rest of the world beckons: waiting out storms at rummy hurricane parties and attending raucous drag cabarets, planning ascendant music careers and black-market business ventures, trying to reconcile the undefined future with the urgent today. Eye-opening and politically prescient, The Other Side of Paradise offers a deep new understanding of a place that has so confounded and intrigued us.


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Change looms in Havana, Cuba's capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santería Change looms in Havana, Cuba's capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santería trainees, pregnant prostitutes, university graduates planning to leave for the first country that will give them a visa. This last generation of Cubans raised under Fidel Castro animate life in a waning era of political stagnation as the rest of the world beckons: waiting out storms at rummy hurricane parties and attending raucous drag cabarets, planning ascendant music careers and black-market business ventures, trying to reconcile the undefined future with the urgent today. Eye-opening and politically prescient, The Other Side of Paradise offers a deep new understanding of a place that has so confounded and intrigued us.

30 review for The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Cooke reports on life in Cuba from the perspective of the 20 something generation - their frustrations, hopes and desires. I am fascinated with Cuba but I was a bit disappointed in this book - perhaps because of Cooke's meandering style and her limited focus. Cooke reports on life in Cuba from the perspective of the 20 something generation - their frustrations, hopes and desires. I am fascinated with Cuba but I was a bit disappointed in this book - perhaps because of Cooke's meandering style and her limited focus.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julia Cooke

    Pride should start at home, right?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    "Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her necklines had crept down; her beauty was tainted with vulgarity. But sometimes, when she was alone, after she'd taken off her makeup, she danced in her garden, bare-faced and barefoot, to an old bolero, and the old elegance appeared, normal as a Tuesday evening." I came across this book in NetGalley and was able to get an early copy for review, "Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her necklines had crept down; her beauty was tainted with vulgarity. But sometimes, when she was alone, after she'd taken off her makeup, she danced in her garden, bare-faced and barefoot, to an old bolero, and the old elegance appeared, normal as a Tuesday evening." I came across this book in NetGalley and was able to get an early copy for review, happily since I had yet to read a book from or about Cuba in my around the world reading challenge. The author tells the story of modern Cuba through the lenses of the younger generation. In 2003, she spent a semester there as a student, and was able to return in 2009 and again in 2011 as a tourist/journalist. Most chapters focus on one person in order to tell a different perspective of how people actually live. Most are in Havana. Characters range from disillusioned revolutionaries to prostitutes to apprentice Santería priests. Through the author's eyes and the words of her acquaintances, we see a slightly newer Cuba, a country that has three forms of currency yet still has to rely on the black market to have enough food to eat. New Cuba can't offer reliable internet but has loosened the rules about religion and sexuality, and has legalized many professions that people could only do unofficially for a long time. I feel like I learned a lot and got a better picture of how things are for my generation these days. Is life in the United States that much better? "In Cuba, her baby would be guaranteed health care in a system that boasted a laudable record; despite the decrepit appearances of most of the country's hospitals, world health organizations cite Cuba's infant mortality rate as better than that of the United States. Her child would learn to read and Sandra would be guaranteed at least some food to get him or her through the first few years." Some of the greatest conflict for young people in Cuba comes at the decision point of traveling outside the country. To do so may create opportunities, but staying away too long can label you as a traitor. Most of the younger people go through a crisis of identity when they have to choose, and it seemed like the majority of the people Cooke encountered can't separate their identities from that of their homeland.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tricina

    This book will suck you in. The author has an incredible eye for detail and, using all five senses, manages to bring Havana right to you, whether it's the ocean breezes that float through Elaine's kitchen window or the noises of G Street or the sharp zing of cakes made without the luxury of butter (because it's being sold on the black market, yo). This isn't a book about traveling, or politics. It's a book about the individuals who grow up in Cuba, the young adults who all love their home and ye This book will suck you in. The author has an incredible eye for detail and, using all five senses, manages to bring Havana right to you, whether it's the ocean breezes that float through Elaine's kitchen window or the noises of G Street or the sharp zing of cakes made without the luxury of butter (because it's being sold on the black market, yo). This isn't a book about traveling, or politics. It's a book about the individuals who grow up in Cuba, the young adults who all love their home and yet strive to move away to anywhere they can make more money and shake off the weight of communism. I didn't mean to, but I read half the book while waiting for tire replacements. It was just the book I'd thrown in my bag for those just-in-case-I-end-up-waiting-somewhere moments and I'm so glad I did. My tire popped and in the next few ours as I sat around the side of the road and then tire shop in the uncomfortable plastic chairs and the dense fog of tire-smell, I took a trip to Havana where I met the most interesting people and had an incredible time. To say this book is engrossing is laughably understated.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Subtitled, “Life in the New Cuba,” this book was written by author Julia Cooke, who first visited the country in 2003 when she was twenty and who returned many times – most notably in 2009, when after many visits, she actually moved to Cuba for several months to research this book. The author was interested in what it was like to grow up in Havana as the last generation of Cubans raised with Fidel Castro in charge of their country. Although Cuba has welcomed tourists, most Cubans have not travel Subtitled, “Life in the New Cuba,” this book was written by author Julia Cooke, who first visited the country in 2003 when she was twenty and who returned many times – most notably in 2009, when after many visits, she actually moved to Cuba for several months to research this book. The author was interested in what it was like to grow up in Havana as the last generation of Cubans raised with Fidel Castro in charge of their country. Although Cuba has welcomed tourists, most Cubans have not travelled outside their own country – as you will read though, almost all of them discuss and plan leaving endlessly. Raised under a single political party, they live a life of great conformity in many ways, with shared experiences of rationed food and shortages. Cuba is a country of great extremes. On a positive note, they have a literacy rate of 99%, healthcare for all, little violent crime and rations provide necessities. However, changes in Russia has meant that the Soviet subsidies, which held the Cuban economy afloat up to the nineties, have caused the country economic disasters which they are still trying to cope with. The people of Cuba have become adept at coping, using the black market and dreaming of exit visas to what they hope will be a better life. Cooke intersperses the stories of many young Cubans with her own experiences, in an entertaining and thought provoking read. We meet many interesting characters as Cooke attempts to find an apartment in overcrowded Havana, meets Sandra – who can earn more money in one night as a prostitute than with a monthly wage as a hairdresser, mixes with Cuban punks, explores racism in Communist Havana, where 80% of University Professors are white, while 85% of those in prison are from the communities who began life in Cuba as slaves, working on sugar plantations and explore the country of Cuba through her eyes. It is a place which offers its young people an education, but also limits their chances - of corruption and hypocrisy and where, you feel, so many of its inhabitants are disenchanted. One of those that Cooke meets, says that when she finally leaves Cuba, she is congratulated as though she has been released from jail. You just hope that all these wonderful, innovative and capable people, find happiness either within Cuba or outside it and are grateful to the author for introducing them to us. This is a really unique read, about a unique country –well written, informative and enjoyable. I received a copy of this book, from the publisher, for review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matt Shaqfan

    Enjoyable and interesting, but only to a point. On the upside, Julia’s experiences and stories are more intimate and engaging compared to some broad overview you might read in a magazine or newspaper. On the other hand, I didn’t really learn much, outside of what I already knew of Cuba (which wasn’t much to begin with). About a third of the way in I kinda felt like I got everything I was gonna get out of the book: people are surviving and living their lives the best they can. Some are doing just Enjoyable and interesting, but only to a point. On the upside, Julia’s experiences and stories are more intimate and engaging compared to some broad overview you might read in a magazine or newspaper. On the other hand, I didn’t really learn much, outside of what I already knew of Cuba (which wasn’t much to begin with). About a third of the way in I kinda felt like I got everything I was gonna get out of the book: people are surviving and living their lives the best they can. Some are doing just fine, some want something more for themselves, some are just going with the flow, good or bad. TOSOP wasn’t boring or anything, but it’s basically a travelogue. If you want something that’s got some history or a focus on Cuba as a nation (past or present), you might wanna look somewhere else.

  7. 5 out of 5

    C. Quintana

    "In Cuba, you were free to choose your fate until it bumped into the country's fate. Then you were invited to make your destiny elsewhere." THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is a love song to Cubans, those who continue to call the island home, and those who speckle the rest of the world. It is a deeply human exploration of a familiar youth culture, made unique by the strikingly particular circumstances of the island under one Castro, and then another. Cooke's book provides the opportunity to see beyond "In Cuba, you were free to choose your fate until it bumped into the country's fate. Then you were invited to make your destiny elsewhere." THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is a love song to Cubans, those who continue to call the island home, and those who speckle the rest of the world. It is a deeply human exploration of a familiar youth culture, made unique by the strikingly particular circumstances of the island under one Castro, and then another. Cooke's book provides the opportunity to see beyond the Buena Vista Social Club Cuba into the realities of twenty-first century Cuban twenty-somethings. Through their stories, we come to grips with why the modern story of the island is both "an exodus" and "not an exodus." And then the book leaves us with the collective question: with so much change in the last ten, five years, what's next? What will the fate of the island be post Raul in 2018?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Alexis

    Some very good reporting in this book. Julia Cooke is an American who attended some university courses in Havana and then lived in Havana, where she worked undercover as a journalist. She does a good job interviewing people, and then researching some of the history of this complicated country. I enjoyed this book, and think it would be of interest to people who have been to Cuba, or who have an interest in the history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lenny D

    Cuba is adored by a certain kind of American—self-starter educated young white women, in my experience—as a land of hidden romance. I’m not positive why. It might be the literal romance proposed to them nonstop by well-groomed men, or the spiritual fullness of a data-free zone, or the great weather, or the general eroticism of Havana’s beautiful ruin. Whatever it is, Julia Cooke caught the bug. Sometimes there was something of relief in the surrender that Havana forced on privileged foreigners. Y Cuba is adored by a certain kind of American—self-starter educated young white women, in my experience—as a land of hidden romance. I’m not positive why. It might be the literal romance proposed to them nonstop by well-groomed men, or the spiritual fullness of a data-free zone, or the great weather, or the general eroticism of Havana’s beautiful ruin. Whatever it is, Julia Cooke caught the bug. Sometimes there was something of relief in the surrender that Havana forced on privileged foreigners. You couldn’t eat what you wanted to eat, porque no hay, and you couldn’t visit a neighborhood with new buildings because it didn’t exist. Every car, townhouse, staircase, and avenue kept the patina of a city that had given itself to the passage of time and to which I was of no consequence. (117) The Other Side of Paradise is a memoir masquerading as anthropology: the story of Cooke’s time in Havana and a few characters she was close with. She comes across as a perceptive, respectful tourist-resident who wants to take with her a world in which she would never permanently confine herself. Your experience as a reader feels ancillary to her personal need to capture Cuba for the trapper-keeper, which is a closeness that charms her whole account. Even when the language gets distended and her disquisitions questionable, Cooke’s affection lights the way. In retrospect, her timing on this project was fortunate. The official tagline of this book is “Life in the new Cuba,” and it was no doubt pitched as an oral history of a pivotal time in Cuba’s opening up to the world. But what looked to the author like a future of precarious gains and inching reforms turned out to be a brief interregnum between Fidel Castro, the “dinosaur” who would forever keep a lid on Cuba, and the lifting of the embargo that happened six months after this book was published. These events would be followed, of course, by the dismissal of that detente by Trump and the subsequent collapse of Cuba’s benefactor, Venezuela. So while things in this book aren’t great, they’re looking up. Honestly though, everything moves so slowly in Cuba that it’s not like some major movement was stopped in its tracks by the ascent of hard-liner President Díaz-Canel or by Trump. The Havana I saw was very much like the world Cooke described. Even Raúl’s reforms, when they were in effect, loosened conditions at the bottom of the system—for regular people—but “contracted into ever more isolationism at the top.” (202) The sense of precariousness remained. Businesses could be snatched away; someone with too many ties to the United States could be thrown in jail the way two foreign businessmen who were locked away for a year were; someone who is too critical, as dissident Oswaldo Payá was, could die under suspicious circumstances as he did last year. No one doubts who is still in power. So for some, these changes aren’t anywhere near enough. My friend, who I was visiting, recommends TOSOP as prep to her tourist clients. In that utility, I have to say it did an amazing job. During the trip, it became a joke how often I would refer to “Hoolia CUC.” Example: passing a bicyclist, “Julia said that people don’t like to ride bicycles here because it looks poor, from when there was no gas in the Special Period,” or “Yeah, Julia got hassled by an American who warned her to stop hanging out with jineteras because the CDR was keeping tabs on her,” or “When Julia wanted ham, she had to get the number of a ham guy who brought a whole leg to her door like a drug deal!” You get a sense of how the culture works, how people hang out in each others’ houses drinking rum, how uneasy they are expressing political opinions around strangers, how the omnipresent illegality of everyday life de-fangs the very notion of the law until suddenly the system chooses to crash on you. Living in Havana had, for me, been a sense of simultaneous discovery and impotence, a monolith of government control Swiss-cheesed with resourcefulness, grace and squalor, yearning and resignation, passion, anesthesia, innocence, and cynicism. And leaving Havana was walking out of a movie before its final scene. But the movie was too long and the climax never seemed to arrive. (198) The only area of coverage I would have liked more of was a clear timeline of what was illegal, when, regarding travel and the embargo and all that. Confusion permeates the Cuban-US relationship—even as I flew on a US carrier between Miami and Havana I was unclear on how legal all of this was—and given the importance to her book of the changing regulations regarding Cuban travel outside the country, she could have done a better job highlighting what had changed. I’ll admit there were times I didn’t love the book. Her prose contains about fifteen percent more literatoor than it should. At its worst, she wrote like a student who just got done reading DFW. Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her necklines had crept down; her beauty was tainted with vulgarity. But sometimes, when she was alone, after she’d taken off her makeup, she danced in her garden, bare-faced and barefoot, to an old bolero, and the old elegance appeared, normal as a Tuesday evening. (155) Laaaaame. This passage is a 25-year old who just took off her bra for the night. There are enough overwrought clunkers in the book to make the writing noticeable (“Adolescence anywhere revolves around the recognition of a gulf between what ought to be and what is,” (149) what, no it doesn’t) but not enough to make it painful. One really cool thing she did was explore the general theme that Cuba is romantic only to people not controlled by it: expats and the artistic elite, mostly. This is arguably the book’s central conclusion about life in Havana. “This was part of what had kept the city alive in my mind even when I was away for long stretches of time. I’d never been religious, but I’d also often found religion appealing in an arms-length, abstract way. (99)” It’s an apt comparison: visiting a Catholic church allows you to steep in its history and grandeur without committing to a defunct ideology that constrains your every movement. Similarly, loving Havana requires being able to leave Havana. There are moments in the book when I want her to acknowledge her outsider status more, or at least to think of how others were regarding her. When she’s reporting on her experience at a party or what a group of men told her on the street, she writes as if from a transparent personage that cannot possibly have been the cute white American woman with whom these Cubans, who are highly sensitive to the presence of outsiders, interacted. My favorite section of the book is when she attends a Santería ritual; it’s the experience she most obviously sought out just for inclusion in this project, and the remove gives her space to be honest about how little she belongs there or believes in this stuff. I think it’s for that reason that this also happens to be the best-written section of the book: building in tension and darkening in mystery and generally revealing the strains of her attempt to connect with these superstitious indigents. She also had this really interesting observation on the interaction of Santería and the godless government under which it thrived: it offered irrational optimism. From within the hierarchies of Santería, I suddenly saw, the hierarchies of Cuba seemed less rigid, more scalable to Isnael. In his world, the world that mattered to him, there were less firmly demarcated boundaries between concrete and abstract power. Cuban power, of course, is anything but abstract. It is relentless and oppressive. It’s one reason why after visiting, I still haven’t caught the Cuba bug. Apart from the novelty of witnessing a charmingly naive kind of destitution up close, Cuba struck me as a hemmed-in place—fundamentally conservative—that frustrated vivacity instead of amplifying it. It had a unique vibe and I had a great time, but I think I generally lack the subtlety you need to love this culture that lives in the shadows. The Revolution constructed a great basis for society, but only the basis of a society. I have great enthusiasm for the positives communism achieved but no tolerance for the political repression the Cuban government imposes on the people. A system that teaches its citizens to read but controls what is published, as Julia says on 161. One line of hers in particular stayed in the front of my mind every time I passed a propaganda banner where in the US an advertisement would be: The closer anyone got to questioning the rhetoric that protected power, the invisible lines separating the owners from the players, the harsher the rejection. This may have applied everywhere, as much in my own country as in Cuba, but in Cuba, young people have always known it. I grew up very American, optimistic and believing that I could do something in the world if I tried hard enough. In Cuba, young people had already changed the world. The word “Revolution” had already acquired a meaning that was close enough to the present that there wasn’t room for another definition. (213) This insight is as succinct a summary of the political life of a Cuban as I’ve seen. Props to Julia Cooke for creating a work that comes as close as is probably possible to capturing the ineffabilities of Cuban life, and explaining the mysteries, even if her attempts at epigrammatic wisdom sometimes feel less real than her connections with the characters she chose to study.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Imogene Drummond

    THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is an intimate, intriguing chronicle of a culture normally hidden from most U.S. citizens. Author and journalist Julia Cooke closely and dispassionately looks at the lives of our neighbors south of us in the Caribbean Sea, and examines how the Castro brothers and the U.S. embargo affected them. This is a fascinating portrait of the resilience of the human spirit. Cooke writes about her experiences, first as a U.S. college student and later as a journalist, in Cuba. She THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is an intimate, intriguing chronicle of a culture normally hidden from most U.S. citizens. Author and journalist Julia Cooke closely and dispassionately looks at the lives of our neighbors south of us in the Caribbean Sea, and examines how the Castro brothers and the U.S. embargo affected them. This is a fascinating portrait of the resilience of the human spirit. Cooke writes about her experiences, first as a U.S. college student and later as a journalist, in Cuba. She deftly describes the lives of several people who befriend her, including a young female prostitute, and eventually, her baby daughter. The cogent socio-historical-economic data woven in with her subjects’ stories deepens the book’s storytelling and insight. Cooke is a fine writer, with a discerning eye, bright mind, and sharp pen. She vividly brings to life people—educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled, young and old—who relentlessly deal with debilitating poverty and the ubiquitous lack of (small and large) choices in the new Cuba. Looking through a large lens, in context with their unique cultural milieu, Cooke reveals individuals using immense personal resources—or what we Americans call “street smarts”—to daily resolve basic, subsistence issues. She follows individuals and families as they subsist and survive; and shares their efforts to plan, study, learn, love, and celebrate. That Cooke wrote THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE over a ten year period adds significantly to its strength. The reader is able to gain greater understanding, inspiration, and compassion for the profoundly courageous lives of “regular” people over the arc of time. Courage required by those who leave, and those who stay. Highly recommended.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    I have always wanted to go to Cuba. I love reading books by folks who've been embedded in a culture that I'm curious about. Julia Cooke is an excellent writer. Chapter by chapter she profiles different people that she knew over many years of living in Cuba. There is an engaging prostitute, the artist who shifts from entitlement to consciousness of his privileged position and the young woman who was trained as a journalist and ended up doing social service teaching Spanish to Chinese students. Th I have always wanted to go to Cuba. I love reading books by folks who've been embedded in a culture that I'm curious about. Julia Cooke is an excellent writer. Chapter by chapter she profiles different people that she knew over many years of living in Cuba. There is an engaging prostitute, the artist who shifts from entitlement to consciousness of his privileged position and the young woman who was trained as a journalist and ended up doing social service teaching Spanish to Chinese students. There are several other engaging profiles woven into stories of families. Julia does an excellent job of profiling the intense and life changing effects of living with the bizarre and oppressive political shifts through the past 70 years. I no longer want to go to Cuba. I'm very glad I read the book. I don't want to support a repressive, psychotic regime so I will spend my travel dollars elsewhere. Cuba has a long way to go to rejoin anything near a decent quality of life for its population.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    I read this book while in Cuba for a month, living in La Vibora and taking Spanish classes. Reading it while witnessing the same details of Cuban life that the author described felt surreal. It was almost as if each page I read became a foretelling of what I would experience the next day. I found it to be a very accurate depiction of life there, and it helped me tremendously to better understand everything I saw and heard in Cuba.

  13. 4 out of 5

    GARY

    amazing book, very well researched and written.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Shannyn

    A well-written book about a society that is as captivating as it is bizarre. I assume the title is a nod to F.Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," which, if i'm remembering correctly, also chronicles a "lost generation." I still don't feel like I have a clear picture of what Cuba is like at this very moment and the changes that have been made (not sure what book I should read for that), but this is a remarkable (and disturbing!) look of what life has been like for the last generation of C A well-written book about a society that is as captivating as it is bizarre. I assume the title is a nod to F.Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," which, if i'm remembering correctly, also chronicles a "lost generation." I still don't feel like I have a clear picture of what Cuba is like at this very moment and the changes that have been made (not sure what book I should read for that), but this is a remarkable (and disturbing!) look of what life has been like for the last generation of Cubans who grew up under Castro, beautifully told through intimate vignettes of very relatable and complex people. Well done.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tyler Carpenter

    I wish this book would have had a more conclusive ending but I admire the rawness of the author and the stories she tells. I read this while visiting Havana, Cuba and found it an enjoyable read, although not always uplifting. When I left Cuba, I found myself longing to return and sad at the state of things on the island. I felt even more sad that we are so close but living such different lives. I also experienced young people who were hopeful but feared the power the government had to strip away I wish this book would have had a more conclusive ending but I admire the rawness of the author and the stories she tells. I read this while visiting Havana, Cuba and found it an enjoyable read, although not always uplifting. When I left Cuba, I found myself longing to return and sad at the state of things on the island. I felt even more sad that we are so close but living such different lives. I also experienced young people who were hopeful but feared the power the government had to strip away what new freedom they enjoyed. Hopeful yet hopeless at the same time is what stuck with me. Well done, Julia.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marion

    I read this book while I was in Cuba on a holiday, and enjoyed it very much. Cooke writes evocatively, uses all 5 senses (as another reviewer notes) and has a clever structure, taking a small Cuban selection of characters to explore various aspects of life in (almost) contemporary Cuba. The only reason I give it 4 rather than 5 stars is that, despite its name, it really doesn't say much about other parts of Cuba, just Havana. I read this book while I was in Cuba on a holiday, and enjoyed it very much. Cooke writes evocatively, uses all 5 senses (as another reviewer notes) and has a clever structure, taking a small Cuban selection of characters to explore various aspects of life in (almost) contemporary Cuba. The only reason I give it 4 rather than 5 stars is that, despite its name, it really doesn't say much about other parts of Cuba, just Havana.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ann Tonks

    To begin with I was slightly put off by the tone of this book. A story of an American living on and off in Cuba who interviews the people she lives with or meets offered some interesting insights into the life in this semi-failed state. But the language was quite hyperbolic and somewhat off putting until I just let it go and was seduced by the story telling. Goths and gays, prostitutes and professionals, those resigned to staying and those desperate to leave - all stories worth hearing.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dan Freeman

    Great profiles of Gen-X age people in Cuba, waiting (patiently or not) for change to come to this land lost in time. Colorful, magazine-essay style accounts of a variety of characters that help explain contemporary Cuban life. While not useful as a travel guide, it was great to read while I visited Cuba in April, 2017.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Dougherty

    I hope Cooke is still traveling to & writing about Cuba, because I'm interested to read her perspective on the continued changes happening. This book along with Mark Kurlansky's have been very interesting from the perspective of Westerners who have traveled to & lived there for years. I hope Cooke is still traveling to & writing about Cuba, because I'm interested to read her perspective on the continued changes happening. This book along with Mark Kurlansky's have been very interesting from the perspective of Westerners who have traveled to & lived there for years.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rita

    An outsider who presents a sympathetic view of everyday life in Cuba as it emerges from a controlled economy reliant on outside benefactors to a economy which will have winners and losers as it adapts to "capitalism" to survive An outsider who presents a sympathetic view of everyday life in Cuba as it emerges from a controlled economy reliant on outside benefactors to a economy which will have winners and losers as it adapts to "capitalism" to survive

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beverly

    Cook does a masterful job of showing what life, with all its complexities, has been like for young Cubans over the last decade or so. She neither sugarcoats nor romanticizes, but her genuine affection for Havana and its people shines through.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Suzka

    It was okay. I was headed to Cuba and read this on recommendation of an article I read, but it was just okay. And it didn't really dovetail with my experience, but to be fair, this isn't a Foreign Tourist on Vacation for Nine Days sort of account. It was okay. I was headed to Cuba and read this on recommendation of an article I read, but it was just okay. And it didn't really dovetail with my experience, but to be fair, this isn't a Foreign Tourist on Vacation for Nine Days sort of account.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte M Wolfe

    Very enlightening. Gave depth to my actual visit to Cuba in March of 2020. Obviously it had been years since the book was written, but much of what she talked about was still apparent. I recommend the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Excellent and faithful depiction of life in Cuba as we witnessed it in March of 2017

  25. 4 out of 5

    Terry Dullum

    Excellent little history.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chris Fong

    Almost gave it 5 stars. Beautiful portrait of modern-day Cuba. Wish I would have read it while there.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maddi

    An insightful and thoughtful look at the lives of young adults in Havana in the 21st century. I'm heading over to Cuba in a couple weeks and I'm so excited!! This book only added to that :D An insightful and thoughtful look at the lives of young adults in Havana in the 21st century. I'm heading over to Cuba in a couple weeks and I'm so excited!! This book only added to that :D

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kate Thompson

    Beautifully told and a fascinating look at Cuba in the 21st century

  29. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Wyatt

    Interesting book about living in Cuba

  30. 4 out of 5

    katie

    A curated first-hand view of life in Cuba before and during a time of change.

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