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Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy Hardcover – November 2, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st Printing edition (November 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 143918190X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439181904
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With the same passionate immediacy as Eire brought to his memoir of a Cuban boyhood, the National Book Award–winning Waiting for Snow in Havana (2002), he writes now about coming to America at age 11. The story takes readers from the journey to American itself—Eire was one of 14,000 unaccompanied refugee children in 1962’s Operation Pedro Pan—through his time in foster homes, both kind and harsh, and eventually to joining his uncle in Chicago, “where everyone came from somewhere else.” Desperate to be American, the teen wants to kill the Cuban in himself, and the personal details are funny, furious, and heartbreaking, as he keeps changing his name (to Charles, Chuck, Charlie, back to Carlos). Now a professor at Yale, he still believes “bilingualism is crap.” He remembers prejudice and ignorance not only from classmates and textbooks but also in himself. He challenges sentimental slogans: absence does not make the heart grow fonder, as his reunion with his mother shows. An essential addition to the Booklist Core Collection feature “The New Immigration Story” (2005), this is about finding home in America by letting go. --Hazel Rochman

Review

"A mix of insightful observation, humor, and heartfelt emotion. . . . Easily one of the more impressive memoirs on the thorny issue of immigration."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A very intelligent and sensitive bird's-eye view of a Cuban exile's boyhood experiences in America . . . eloquent and moving."
—Oscar Hijuelos

More About the Author

Some of my readers tell me that I am two authors: one a historian of late medieval and early modern European religious history, who writes books laden with footnotes, and the other a memoirist who has written about his life in Cuba and in exile.
My dual identity is a result of my life history. I'm a Cuban exile. In 1962, at the age of eleven, my parents sent me to the United States, as part of the so-called Pedro Pan airlift, which offered 14,000 Cuban children a chance to escape the totalitarian soul-crushing regime of Fidel Castro. After three and a half years of bouncing from one foster home to another, my mother was finally allowed to leave Cuba, and I was reunited with her in Chicago. My father remained trapped in Cuba, and I never saw him again.
Scholarship became my intellectual and spiritual refuge from life as an exile, and, at the same time, my means of understanding it. Having lived through a violent revolution, it is no accident that I chose to specialize in the religious, social, and political upheavals of the age of the Reformation (1450-1700). Having perceived at an early age that modern politics is not much different from religion, insofar as political movements are guided by sets of beliefs and established through rituals and symbols, and lists of "correct" beliefs, it is also no accident that I gravitated to religious history.
My two writing styles are different, as one might expect, but I only have one voice, and one goal in mind when I write, which is to make the past come alive, and to help my readers see that there is always more to be perceived than what meets the eye, both in the past and in the present.
Up until the year 2000, my writing was strictly professional, and limited to the demands of my teaching posts: before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, I taught at St. John's University in Minnesota and the University of Virginia, and spent two years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. But in 2000, driven nearly insane by the ignorant and offensive way in which the North American news media dealt with all things related to Cuba, I ended up writing my own eyewitness account of the Cuban Revolution. I meant to publish it as fiction, but thanks to a very wise editor, it ended up on the shelves as what it really was: a memoir, and perhaps the best piece of history I have penned to date.
Much to my surprise, "Waiting for Snow in Havana" (Free Press, 2003) not only became a best-seller, but also won the National Book Award in nonfiction for 2003, and ended up being translated into thirteen languages. It has also brought me the highest honor of all: having all of my work banned by the Castro regime, and being declared an enemy of their state.
The two of me are currently working on three different projects. In 2009 the "professor" published "A Very Brief History of Eternity" with Princeton University Press, a scholarly book that seeks to address a broad audience. The "professor" is also nearly finished with a survey history of the Reformation, to be published by Yale University Press, and researching the history of attitudes towards miracles in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The "writer" has just published another memoir, "Learning to Die in Miami", which covers his first four years in exile, (Free Press, 2010).

Customer Reviews

Why retire when you have a good job is what he would always say.
Ana O'Loane
The book ends and the first thing the reader wants to say to the author is hurry up, write the next one.
honey
His story was moving and interesting, and his drawing of characters excellent.
Pen Name

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

56 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Bette VINE VOICE on November 22, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I walked into this book knowing very little about Cuba's history, and knowing nothing about Operation Pedro Pan. Controversy exists around Pedro Pan and its exodus of 14,000 children from Castro's Cuba to the U.S. in 1962. No matter how one wishes to see this operation, positively or negatively, the fact remains that thousands of Cuban children ended up in American foster homes. Every child deals with trauma in his or her own way, and LTDIM is Carlos' story.

The title stems from the author-as-child's need to kill Carlos in order to become the accepted Americanized version of himself. Hence, he becomes Charles, and even Chuck. But it goes deeper than that. As dictated by circumstances, as well as Carlos' dissociative disorder (of course, this is undefinable as a child - no child goes around diagnosing himself as a dissociator - it's just one's nature), Carlos remains relegated to Charles' inner world, of the past. Charles refers to himself in the third person and adds that he'd rather "forget about all of that Cuban stuff." The author's life in Cuba as a child was happy, and normal. Suddenly, his life turned upside down, he is now inside out, learning a new culture, and being shuffled from one foster home to another.

One foster home in particular was quite traumatic for Carlos, a home he called Palace Ricardo, which was run by a Cuban couple who once ran a school in Havana. Wryly nicknamed Lucy and Ricky, they were sociopaths who denied decent food, clothing, shelter and any of life's most basic pleasures to the children in their care.
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61 of 69 people found the following review helpful By honey on October 31, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Have you read Waiting for Snow in Havana? It is possible to enjoy this book by itself, but your reading of this book will be enriched by reading that one first.
Learning to Die in Miami has an overwhelming story. The book ends and the first thing the reader wants to say to the author is hurry up, write the next one. Don't stop now.
I recommend this book very highly.

So many suffer because of the evil doers of Cuba's current government. This book, by telling the story of one child so beautifully and clearly, gives the reader a tiny sense of the enormity of the crimes of these bastards.

The opening chapter grabs you immediately. Geometry tries to control what is not controllable, the emotions of a bereft child.
On you swim into the book. The writing is spectacular. All of it. I am so angry on one page. Then I am heartbroken. Suddenly, what is this? I am laughing. I am alone with no one to impress and I am laughing out loud. Then, just as suddenly I am swept away by something so endearing and touching, it's almost unbearable.
The author makes real and palpable what the child felt. How does a child, or anyone, make sense out of a world where love can make everything better, where superhuman acts of sacrifice exist, yet where prejudice or lack of caring and worse is just as easily a part of life?

This book is patterned similarly to Waiting for Snow in Havana. Each chapter has a theme and variations, then returns at its close bringing you home. POW!

This is an honest book. Not too many could write with such honesty about themselves.
In this book Carlos describes dying many times. But the implication is that to do so means each time, he came alive again. The suffering he embraces helps him to rise like a phoenix. His faith rescues him.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By George Fischer on December 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I know Florida City and Miami, especially Calle Ocho. Thank you for teaching me to swear in Spanish from the gitgo -- Chapter 1. However, you did something that Alex Haley didn't do 40 years ago. You found the abodes where your family came from and where almost everybody looked like you. Amazing, because I did the same thing in eastern Austria and dined in the house where my grandfather grew up before he came to America (still in the family after 150 years). It was a very fulfilling experience. I really enjoyed your book and the way you approached it. I hope you have a new project in the works as I am looking forward to seeing it.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Ana O'Loane on March 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I have never written a book review although I always read them before purchasing a book.
But I feel I must today because I just finished Carlos Eire's latest book about his immigration experience.
Like Mr. Eire, I was born in Havana, Cuba but left my native country when I was only 3. So, unlike Mr. Eire, I have no memories of the place that is seared so deeply into my being.
Like Mr. Eire, my family came to the US with nothing except some family jewels hidden in talcum powder. These will never be sold -- our only link to our past. After being in Miami for only six months, my coma-stricken grandmother was shipped over (Fidel was no dummy; her passage was arranged with no problem) in a hospital bed. She died in the front room of our two-room rental after three months.
In Cuba we owned a sugar mill and sold the oceanfront family farm to the developers of one of Havana's most exclusive and newest suburbs.
My mother had never cooked or cleaned before 1962. Or had a job.
My father was an internist that had to start his career over again. His first job was as an orderly at a mental hospital in the middle of nowhere Texas.
Like Mr. Eire, our lives were slowly put back together but not the way the way anyone would have imagined back in 1962. No one is bitter but everyone is changed. My mom died without seeing her country ever again. But she had an MBA and taught for years. My father is 88 and has a good pension after retiring from psychiatry and teaching when he was in his early 70s. Why retire when you have a good job is what he would always say.
So I connect with Mr. Eire's writing in a very special way.
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