Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider's view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky's own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city's singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.Read more...
Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider's view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky's own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city's singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.
Like all great cities, Havana has a rich history that informs the vibrant place it is today--from the native Taino to Columbus's landing, from Cuba's status as a U.S. protectorate to Batista's dictatorship and Castro's revolution, from Soviet presence to the welcoming of capitalist tourism. Havana is a place of extremes: a beautifully restored colonial city whose cobblestone streets pass through areas that have not been painted or repaired since the revolution.
Kurlansky shows Havana through the eyes of Cuban writers, such as Alejo Carpentier and Jose Marti, and foreigners, including Graham Greene and Hemingway. He introduces us to Cuban baseball and its highly opinionated fans; the city's music scene, alive with the rhythm of Son; its culinary legacy. Once the only country Americans couldn't visit, Cuba is now opening to us, as is Havana, not only by plane or boat but also through Mark Kurlansky's multilayered and electrifying portrait of the long-elusive city."
- ISBN-13: 9781632863911
- ISBN-10: 163286391X
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
- Publish Date: March 2017
- Page Count: 272
- Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.93 pounds
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2017-01-09
- Reviewer: Staff
Warmly rendered and rich with the insights of an observer intimate with his subject, this paean to the city of Havana is as engaging as it is timely. The chapters read like a series of colorful picture postcards, each one a touchstone of Havanas history and Cuban culture. One addressing the citys intense tropical heat leads to reflections on bloody events that punctuate Havanas tragic and impassioned history, because in Havana every splash of light has its dark spot. References to Cecilia Valdés (1882), the landmark novel of exiled Cuban novelist Cirilo Villaverde, invoke discussion of the islands Afro-Cuban culture and its slave trade, which was not abolished until 1886. Descriptions of the citys postrevolution character naturally invite comparisons to prerevolutionary Havana and its near-overdevelopment with luxury hotels promoted by mobster Meyer Lansky and other organized crime syndicates. Kurlansky (Paper) has a tour guides eye for Havanas most notable aspects, and he anchors his colorful observations with historical details gleaned from more than three decades of familiarity with the place and its people, beginning in 1976 as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. This vivid travelogue may well persuade his readers that Havana, for all its smells, sweat, crumbling walls, isolation, and difficult history, is the most romantic city in the world. Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (Mar.)
Lost in a tropical daze
Oh, the streets of Havana: the sound of live music heard through big open windows. Spanish spoken so fast, with so many dropped letters. The rotting grandeur. Irreverent jokes, nicknames, arguments. Constant talk, talk, talk—Spanish poet Federico García Lorca called the people of Havana the hablaneros, the talkers.
Havana is sui generis and addictive, and Mark Kurlansky really gets it, as much as any foreigner can. The prolific author has been visiting Cuba’s capital for more than 30 years as a journalist. Now, at a time when U.S.-Cuban relations appear to be in a thaw, he has captured its transcultural essence in Havana: A Subtropical Delirium.
As befits such a kaleidoscopic city, the book covers a little of everything: history, music, literature, food, interesting characters, personal reminiscences. One fun feature is a series of recipes of famous dishes (chicken with sour oranges) and drinks (use Havana Club light dry rum for your mojito).
Kurlansky emphasizes throughout that one strong element of Havana’s distinctive style is the African influence that began with the tragedy of slavery, which lasted until 1886. Havana’s rich and seminal music, dance and literature are an amalgam of Spanish and African traditions. And sadly, its recurrent violence and political instability are in part the legacy of slavery’s social distortions.
Kurlansky is even-handed about the impact of the Castro government. Yes, he says, Cuba is a repressive police state, but Havana was a place of genuine experimentation in the early revolutionary years. Since the collapse of its Soviet support system, he writes, it has been reverting more to its norm.
Before 1960, that norm included omnipresent U.S. investors and tourists. Americans always adored Havana’s film-noir tone, which Kurlansky describes as “ornate but disheveled, somewhat like an unshaven man in a tattered tuxedo.” Will they return now? We’ll see.