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The Truth About Cuba: Seven Recommended Reads for the Curious Traveler

November 7, 2012 in Cuba, Literature, Politics

1. The Old Man And The Sea

Ernest Hemingway (fiction, 1952)

The Old Man And The Sea was Ernest Hemingway’s last fiction published during his lifetime. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1953. The novella tells the story of Santiago, an aging fisherman, and his attempt to transcend natural laws. In Santiago we find a hero, and a representative of Cuba and its people through the eyes of Hemingway.

2. Trading With The Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba

Tom Miller (non-fiction, 2008)

Tom Miller chronicles his eighth month trip with unrestricted access to the country and its people in this recent and eye-opening account of modern day Cuba.  Ripe with literary history, Miller follows the paths of Jose Marti, Graham Greene and Ernest Hemingway.

3. Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana

Isadora Tattlin (non-fiction, 2003)

Tattlin, after moving to Cuba in the early 1990s because of her husband’s job, kept a detailed narrative of her time in a country full of contradictions, and her reflections of being a wife, a mother, and an ex-patriot in a simultaneously beautiful and troubled country. It takes place during the peak of Castro’s reign.

4. Our Man In Havana:

Graham Greene (fiction, 1958)

A true page-turner and espionage thriller, Our Man In Havana follows the story of former vacuum cleaner-salesman-turned-secret-agent James Wormwold and his experience working in Cuba. Written by British author Graham Greene, (who was a part of M16) the book is part satire, part black comedy, and is a humorous and eye-opening view of Cuba during the Batista regime.

5. Cuba: Another Side of The Story: Memoirs of A Cuban Childhood

Iris M. Diaz (non-fiction, 2010)

The story of Ms. Diaz is the story of many Cubans who left the island in 1961, with no money in their pockets and dreams of a brighter future. Diaz’s story is one of struggle and tenacity, and her eventual success as a contemporary American citizen who remains loyal to her Cuban heritage.

6. The Splendor Of Cuba: 450 Years of Architecture and Interiors

Written by Michael Connors, Photographed by Brent Winebrenner (Art, architecture 2011)

In this stunning visual and literary history of Cuba’s architecture, Connors and Winebrenner capture not only the derelict Cuba of Castro’s reign, but also the lavish beauty of Cuba’s Spanish Creole aristocracy.  The book travels from Havana to Finca Vigia, (Hemingway’s home) and provides close-ups of balustrades, grilles and all that is Cuba’s faded glory and meticulously kept majesty.

7. Lonely Planet: Cuba

(Travel, 2009)

Included is a full color section on Cuba’s music, festivals, natural beauty and architecture, and a unique green index that makes eco friendly travel easy. Lonely Planet provides vital information on anything from deep-sea fishing to dining and traveling safely and efficiently.

Rachel Blaustein And The Poetry Of Israel

July 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

Photo by Dorit SassonIsrael holds a very special place in the American cultural consciousness.  For many, it is a holy land, a promised place where they will finally be accepted.  It is a place for pilgrimages and coming-of-age visits.  This idea is perhaps best encapsulated in the program “Birth Right,” which provides funds for young Jewish-Americans to visit the Middle Eastern country.  This Israel is somewhat of a utopia, made even more dream-like and perfect by its distance, by our infrequent visits.

However, there is another Israel.  This Israel is real; it is the stuff of politics and war, battlegrounds both actual and ideological.  The beauty of the country is made no less by its contentious political position, but, as Dorit Sasson points out in our newest feature article, there is a schism between the various visions of the country.

In a sense, this schism can be traced down to Israel’s rich past.  This is a country seeped with tradition and history.  It is a place of poetry and song.  In order to understand her view of Israel more fully, Sasson returns to a poem of her childhood, “V’Ulai” by Rachel Blaustein.  For her, the gentle poem speaks to the different versions of Israel, the Utopian image, the longing for a dream that never has been, and the reality of a place unfinished, imperfect.

Though I have never been to Israel, reading Sasson’s article, I am reminded of another great poet of Israel: Yehuda Amichai.  Amichai was born in Germany, but he spent most of his life living in Israel (both the real country and the dream-land).  Like Blaustein, much of his poetry is about his relationship to the relatively-new motherland, but in contrast to Rachel, Yehuda’s poetry is often not fit for children.  Indeed, his poetry for Jerusalem often reads like love poetry, words written by a man to a woman.  While I cannot speak for Israel, I will always remember Amichai’s words about Jerusalem:

But he who loves Jerusalem
By the tourist book or the prayer book
is like one who loves a woman
By a manual of sex positions.

Join us in nostalgia and melancholy this week by checking out Rachel Blaustein’s Kinneret, A Child’s Poem of Israel.

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