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Cuba Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana Hardcover – May 17, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: A Shannon Ravenel Book; 1 edition (May 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565123492
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565123496
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,157,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this collection of her diary entries, housewife Tattlin describes the four years she and her family spent living in Cuba in the 1990s while the Communist country was adjusting to a liberalized economy and a shift in tourist policy. Living amid severe economic imbalance, "tourist apartheid" imposed upon locals, shortages of every conceivable household need (Tattlin's list of supplies extends over two pages) and a social architecture frozen in the 1950s, Tattlin and family inhabit an upscale Havana townhouse accompanied by a staff of seven. Her writing is clear and lively, her observances astute and witty. The record of her daily excursions has her searching for fresh produce, enrolling her children in swimming and dance lessons, visiting the pediatrician and hosting state dinners with guests the likes of Fidel Castro. She also avidly details daily living conditions with her servants and how she makes friends with the people in her neighborhood. But over the course of the book, the people she meets are passive, showing no resistance to Tattlin's questions and curiosity. Readers might get the sense that Tattlin is meeting the same characters time after time. In addition, her brief recollections leave little room for viewing the inner workings of her family or their relationships to one another: "Nick [her husband] is depressed. He always gets depressed... when the kids and I take off." Despite these shortcomings, however, Tattlin's book is an enjoyable, warm trip.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Even with the tentative opening of travel and activity between the United States and Cuba, there is still a serious lack of information about the country. This book redresses the balance, but only partly. The pseudonymous author is the American wife of a European businessman stationed in Havana in the mid-1990s, when the country was struggling with economic problems related to the loss of financial support from the Soviet Union. In this four-year diary of her stay, she provides a vivid and unusual perspective on what it was like to live in Cuba during this difficult time. But while she aims to describe everyday life there, her day-to-day experience was quite different from that of most Cubans. Her family lived in a large home with several servants and had a large income even if there wasn't much to buy and their dinner guests included Fidel Castro himself. Nevertheless, this book is well written and enjoyable. Of interest to Latin American collections as well as libraries with travel books. Mark L. Grover, Brigham Young Univ., Provo, UT
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

The daily life of the American housewife living in Cuba is full of details that make for a fascinating read.
Lois Jones
At one point she asks her staff who've stolen detergent and coffee from her *if* they should ever be of material need to merely make that need known.
Leon Rum
Nothwithstanding that much is changing in Cuba, I suspect the truth of stratified life in Cuba still exists.
M. Little

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Regina McMenamin on March 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
I believe this may be the second best book I have ever read and possibly one of the most insightful travel logs ever written.

Composed of almost-daily entries and organized by school year, Cuba Diaries is the journal of an American housewife living in Havana during the mid-90s. Solely concerned with feeding, entertaining and educating her children while sustaining her marriage, Isadora Tattlin details what sounds like a mundane life. Yet, because it is all happening in beautiful, wacky Cuba, the author's every day chores take on a rip-rollicking feel that will easily have you laughing out-loud.

Because Cuba is the "forbidden island" just 90 miles south of Florida, there is a natural curiosity about it for any American who has ever thought about Fidel Castro and the country he has ruled since 1959.

While Cuba Diaries feeds that curiosity, the author does something smart with it, too. Rather than editorialize her position on Castro or Cuba, Tattlin avoids politics altogether and instead recites bizarre facts, one right after another:

"In the Diplo a seventeen-dollar cabbage" was all she wrote on entry 68 of the second school year.

While other reviewers may detect a snooty, privileged attitude on the author's part or a disrespect for Cuban people in general, I never found any of Tattlin's witty observations to be remotely critical of the resourceful people who have learned to live on this island with so little for so long.

On the contrary, the reader is lead to feel enormous empathy, undying respect and sheer admiration for Cubans. And though the author never pushes the reader toward any conclusions about Castro, by simply typing up the events of her four years in Cuba, Tattlin leaves you with two burning wishes: 1. that somehow Castro will somehow disappear and; 2. that you can hop on the next plane to Havana and join the fun.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on October 21, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read 'Cuba Diaries' by "Isadora Tattlin" (pen name) a month ago and was compelled to write about it today as I look at various stories circulating on the Web about Fidel's broken kneecap (filed under the humorous title 'The Fall of Castro'). I loved Tattlin's book and so has everyone else who I've recommended it to. Others may criticize it as being the boring diary of a housewife with not much to say, but I think that misses the point. More than any other book I've read about Cuba, 'Diaries' seems to put you squarely in Havana by showing you the challenges of every day life. Granted, Tattlin and family are not every day Cubans - she's quite frank about her life of (comparative) privilege...but she does give you a true sense of how all Cubans must survive on guile and wit.

Additionally, I was fascinated by the way Tattlin chose to mask the identity of herself and husband 'Nick' described as being born in 'X' and then constantly referring to Nick's X-ian background, his X-ian associates, speaking X-ian to their children. I know you're thinking - boy, that must be annoying. It's not - I found myself intrigued and beguiled by the whole thing - trying to piece together what country it could possibly be (Eastern European is as close as I could come - and I'm not guaranteeing that's right).

Plus, as an added bonus there's a dinner at the Tattlin's house with Fidel as a guest. That chapter alone ought to make you buy the book - simply fascinating the details she imparts Fidel arriving (in a phalanx of limos mind you) and immediately insisting on using the mirror as he enters the house. He stands there combing his hair (for over a minute!) while the hired help looks on raptorously (and the Tattlins think "what the...."?). There are tons of small observations like that one that make 'Diaries' a truly great read.
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41 of 48 people found the following review helpful By anerak2 on August 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
I know that "Tattlin" felt descriptions of her life and friends in Cuba had to be obscured in Cuba Diaries so as not to rile the government or jeopardize anyone's position. But that doesn't explain why she fails to describe the beautiful countryside, why she and her children "will never forget the Cuban nights," the enchanting music on every corner, the crumbling but unique and exceptional Havana architecture, or the stunningly gorgeous citizens. More than just a combination of "cafe con una gota de leche" or various other permutations of their African/European roots, they are unlike people anywhere else.
"Isadora" is so over-protective of herself, her marriage, her position, and her feelings that what we are left with is little more than datebook entries. I read the book because I'm in love with Cuba, but I didn't recognize its spirit in this smug musing on a privileged life in what could be any third world country.
I've been to Cuba, and spent most of my time in Havana. Every morning while walking even to get a cup of coffee (which Tattlin describes as nearly impossible -- if you believe her version the only place to get food is at her house or in a paladar), I met with beautiful music, beautiful voices, and cheerful conversations among Cubans on the sidewalks and streetcorners.
Not that Habaneros are elated 24/7, but there is a wonderful outlook and wonderful talent among the people that I feel is completely overlooked by those who only go to the society-filled cultural events. Isadora should have skipped some of the Castro affairs and tried walking down the street and listening to the various impromptu performances going on.
Yes, some of Cuba is depressing. Doctors, engineers, scientists are impoverished and many drive taxicabs or cater to tourists to make ends meet.
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