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Ay, Cuba! A Socio-Erotic Journey Hardcover – January 15, 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st edition (January 15, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312198310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312198312
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #636,760 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

More About the Author

Andrei Codrescu (codrescu.com) was born in Sibiu, Transylvania, Romania. His first poetry book "License to Carry a Gun" won the Big Table Poetry award. He founded Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Books & Ideas (corpse.org), taught literature and poetry at Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, and Louisiana State University where he was MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English. He is a regular commentator on NPR's All Things Considered since 1983, has received a Peabody Award for writing and starring in the film "Road Scholar. In 1989 he returned to his native Romania to cover the fall of the Ceausescu regime for NPR and ABC News, and wrote "The Hole in the Flag: an Exile's Story of Return and Revolution." He is the author of books of poetry, novels, essays; the most recent are "The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess," (2009) "The Poetry Lesson" (2010) and "whatever gets you through the night: a story of sheherezade and the arabian entertainments" (2011), all published by Princeton University Press.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 27, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I have been traveling to Cuba about once every month and a half for the last 3 years and I find that that the 12 day journey of Mr. Codrescu wasn't enough for him or anyone to gain an insight about how the Cubans carry themselves and interact either with tourists or among themselves. Not enough to write a book about the subject. Not enough to give useful advice to future travelers, and certainly not enough to attempt to explain the complex and difficult situation experienced by the Cuban people everyday.
His narrative is funny and some of his descriptions of the places he visited are accurate, but I wouldn't reccomend it as a travel guide, or as a resource to gather information about the people and their socio-economic situation. Take it as the journal of some guys who went to Cuba for 12 days and had some serious fun without doing any serious research and you'll have a fun read.
For those interested in a more in-depth description of the situation and the Cuban people read Catherine Moses' Real Life in Castro's Cuba
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Charles Desmarais on January 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Codrescu is a good writer with a wonderful sense of humor but, MAN, does he have strong opinions for somebody who spent less than two weeks in the country. His intensely anti-communist bias can be an obstacle at times, yet overall his opinions are a refreshing balance to the generally pro-Castro intellectual line on Cuba. The photographs are perfectly fine as travel pix, but offer few insights into the culture or people of Cuba.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 13, 1999
Format: Hardcover
There is much to admire about this book. The photo's are interesting (if unspectacular) and Codrescu's take on Cuba is unique, given his Romanian communist background. But this is very much a book of "impressions," not scholarship. The author repeats erroneous cliches about Cuba (about how homosexuals are treated, for one -- see "Machos, Maricones, and Gays: Cuba and Homosexuality) without ever explaining or exploring them. He spends too much time on the colorful surface, i.e. santeria, cigars, all the available "pu**y." On the other hand, he's a talented writer, so if you've never been to Cuba and are planning to go, "Ay, Cuba" is not a bad place to start.
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15 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have had a passion for Cuba, Cuban books, and accounts of life on the island for three decades. I found "Ay, Cuba" to be the most engaging, sexiest book I ever read. Codrescu captures the flavors of the island, the warmth of the people, and the unfairness of the monstrous regime. Because of his Eastern European background, the author is able to see much deeper than most American writers. He encounters santeros, prostitutes, high-ranking Cubans, writers, and Americans in love with the Cuban mystique. There is also a spectacular interview with Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, the Yankee pitcher who helped win the World Series, just a few days before his defection. "Ay. Cuba: A Socio-Erotyic Journey" is a must for anyone interested in the island, its textures, flavors, sounds, and allure.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Both my wife and I read this book and recommend it highly. The book is informative and insightful. It gave us a glimpse of life in communist Cuba. The characters are as colorful as Cuba itself and the author does an excellent job of assimilating into the culture yet filtering the propaganda emanating from the Cuban political machinery.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Codrescu, a regular NPR commentator gives us a curiously unsympathetic view of Castro's Cuba, in the days running up to the historic papal visit in January 99.
Spending 13 days in Havana and Santiago de Cuba looking for trouble, he manages to find it. He mingles with hustlers, prostitutes, angry bureaucrats and non-sanctioned state writers and manages to hear what he wants to hear. He is almost upset when he can't find any exiles, whom he assumes are abundant. He turns down a meeting with a high-ranking government official. The only Castro "apologists" are dismissed as misguided (one disenchanted individual recently returned from Miami is labeled a "juvenile delinquent").
Given that Codrescu himself is a former exile from Ceauçescu's Romania, one can understand his rabidly anti-Communist stance. But citing his belief that Castro is in the twilight of his reign, the tiresome comparisons he makes between socialist Cuba and the Romania of his youth are rarely validated.
Never one to sit back and watch the world pass by from his hotel room, Codrescu cannot be criticized for not leaping at the chance for confrontation. He manages to pack in plenty of adventures and finally (but somewhat reluctantly) acknowledges the warmth and generosity of the Cuban people.
But after explaining the inequalities and corruption in the system (he doesn't mention the US embargo let alone blame it for even part of Cuba's plight), he then proceeds to take advantage and benefit from it, albeit with some pity.
The inequalities of a duel economy (Cubans who have access to dollars and those that don't) is clearly one of Cuba's many problems.
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