When Romanian exile and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu was given an assignment by his producer to travel to Cuba just before the pope's historic visit in 1998, he jumped at the chance. Cuba had been on his mind for years as part of his pursuit to understand the mysterious demise of Communism in Eastern Europe. Castro's Cuba, he felt, was the only place that held the clues to this demise; it was a "laboratory of pre-post-communism" where he could witness "a decomposing ideology before all its elements transmuted into the noxious gases that gag Eastern Europe now."
Together with documentary photographer David Graham, Codrescu went on a 13-day journey, and he encountered warm, affectionate, hospitable people. What surprised Codrescu and Graham most about the Cubans was their candor: They spoke of their nation with a mix of pride, hopelessness, and amusement--a major contrast to Codrescu's experience in post-Communist Romania back in 1989. The two met and interviewed a broad range of artists, architects, prostitutes, and members of the working class. They also met some international celebrities, such as baseball player and recent defector El Duque Hérnandez.
Codrescu's lively, at times irreverent and comical narration and Graham's expressive photos evoke the passion, culture, economics, and politics that shape the nation. Ay, Cuba! is an enlightening and important book, made more urgent by Codrescu's indelible and fully realized portrait of the twilight of Fidel Castro's 40-year reign, one that shatters the politically constructed, media-perpetuated American myths so carefully ingrained in our conscience since the cold war. --Kera Bolonik
From Publishers Weekly
National Public Radio commentator and house cynic Codrescu escaped communist Romania at age 19 and has had few kind words for the Soviet system since. Who better, then, to suss out the condition of the great bearded Red and his country? "I wanted to go to Cuba," writes Codrescu, "because I wanted to see for myself a decomposing ideology." The book takes the form of an ironic travelogue-cum-report from the front. Cuba?still embargoed by the United States but bereft of its former benefactor, the Soviet Union?has been forced to transform its entire economy into a black-market haven for Western tourists. Fidel Castro turns a blind eye to all the Yanquis in his midst, maintaining his revolutionary fervor while his people starve, flee or hustle a buck. Codrescu and his gang?a photographer, an NPR producer and a former Nicaraguan revolutionary?encounter street hustlers, prostitutes, visionary bureaucrats, Santeria practitioners, good and bad food, plenty of cigars and lots of rum as they peel away the Travel & Leisure veneer to discover the real Cuba. Each chapter is prefaced with an "exquisite corpse," a surreal group poem, composed by the members of the party; these, along with the photographs, and the stories of the many Cuban women he encounters, particularly a doctor whom he romances for a day (hence the subtitle), add considerable immediacy to the story (which was originally reported on NPR). Codrescu turns out to be more sympathetic, although no less cutting, than one might expect. He admits that "I still have an irrational nostalgia for Stalinism," which he describes as "a puppy-warm lie spread over everything like a perfumed shroud over a maggoty corpse." B&w and color photos.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.