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The Americano: Fighting with Castro for Cuba's Freedom Hardcover – July 12, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. William Morgan, an American who made his way to the front line of Castro's revolution in Cuba, gets thorough and entertaining treatment in this biography. Largely unknown in the U.S., his story is filled with the suspense of a blockbuster war movie, offering new and insightful perspective into the political climate of 1950s Cuba. From Morgan's Ohio beginnings, Shetterly quickly moves to his life in rebel camps in Cuba's mountains, which Shettterly describes exquisitely, and quite viscerally. Deftly weaving together a considerable amount of research to set the scene, he uses his findings to paint an intriguing and nuanced portrait of Morgan as well as the political tensions of the time. In fact, in addition to Morgan's story, there's a fascinating subplot about how Castro and the revolutionaries did not enter the revolution with a clear Communist platform, but slowly evolved that way from internal and external forces. Issues of nationalism and the role of journalism play a large role in the book, turning the intriguing story of one man into a thoughtful examination of 20th-century Cuban history. (Aug. 10)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Only two foreigners were elevated to the rank of commandante (equivalent to major) during the war to oust the Batista regime from Cuba. One was the Argentine Ernesto "Che" Guevara; the other was the American William Morgan. Guevara now, of course, has the status of a secular saint in Cuba and is still revered as a revolutionary icon four decades after his execution in Bolivia. Morgan, on the other hand, apparently became disillusioned as the Castro government embraced communism, and he was executed as an "agent of imperialism" in 1961. Shetterly tells both Morgan's story and the stories of many other brave individuals who fought Batista and then Castro as it became clear that his promises of freedom and democracy were a cruel hoax. Like Guevara, Morgan was a rather rootless adventurer. Although his political views were somewhat inchoate, he clearly was dedicated to the ideals of political democracy and individual freedom. His experiences and the experiences of others profiled here illustrate the broader tragedy of those who fought for a truly free Cuba and saw their hopes betrayed. Freeman, Jay
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books; First edition (July 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565124588
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565124585
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Over the last 20 years, Aran has lived in Costa Rica, Cuba, Mexico, Miami, New York and Maine, where he grew up. Today, he lives in Mexico, where he and his wife founded Inside México, an English-language magazine. He is a freelance writer and editor. He likes a good story and writes about Latin American culture, history and politics, as well as natural history and conservation. Aran Shetterly attended Harvard College and the University of Southern Maine, where he completed a master's degree in New England and American studies.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There is no shortage of biographies on historical figures. Year after year, we're inundated with new editions on Kennedy and King, Lincoln and Leonardo da Vinci, each purporting to shine a new light on the great individual and their role in history. However, it's often the stories of people who have been lost to history that truly bring the particulars of a certain era into sharp focus. Such is the case with Aran Shetterly's The Americano, the story of William Morgan, a man from Toledo who fought alongside the rebels in the Cuban revolution.

A misfit whose taste for adventure was way bigger than the middle American sensibilities of his native Toledo, William Morgan, after years of mixing it up with small time hoodlums and a troublesome stint in the US Army, finds his way to Cuba, where he enlists with the rebel group the Second National Front of the Escambray. Within months, The Americano, as he is affectionately christened by his new comrades, is one of the unit's leaders, and on his way to becoming one of the central figures in the revolution and a Cuban celebrity.

Morgan rubs shoulders with all of the well-known usual suspects: the Cuban dictator Batista and the Dominican dictator Trujillo, the Argentine rebel commander Che Guevara, Ernest Hemingway, J. Edgar Hoover and the "jefe" himself, Fidel Castro. Shetterly delivers all of the requisite historical detail--names and roles of characters from important to incidental, all the relevant dates and locations, geopolitical backstory--but locates it all within a narrative that is as compelling and cinematic as any story I've read recently, fiction or non-fiction.
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Format: Hardcover
Morgan's story is almost too amazing to believe. A hapless soul with nothing to lose -- kicked out of schools and dishonorably discharged from the army -- washes up in Cuba and within months becomes a Cuban national hero?! This gringo didn't even speak Spanish and now (thanks to this book) has a legitimate claim to being properly recognized as one of the genuine heroes of the Cuban revolution. Just look at the cover with this dropout from Ohio walking arm-in-arm with Che and Castro.

This is a wonderful story of charisma, good timing, and derring-do -- and how someone really can have a second act in life. And what a second act: a drifter morphing into a central player on the international stage. The book offers a lot of color on the "peripheral characters" in Morgan's story, like Castro (a closet Communist at the time), the NY Times mischief-maker Herbert Matthews, and the ruthless Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo.

The book shares Morgan's charisma and good timing. It's fun, runs fast, and is full of endearing details to make you fall in love with the guy. Timingwise, it's perfect. The old timers who know what really happened were muzzled by Castro for the last fifty years. They're (mostly) not dead yet, but old enough to spill their guts without fear of retribution. Shetterly does a nice job of getting them to talk, which makes all the difference in this charming story of a forgotten/censored corner of US and Cuban history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In the May 12, 2012 issue of "The New Yorker", David Grann published an article on William Alexander Morgan, an American n'er-do-well type who, by dint of populist sympathies, adventurism or opportunism (it's not clear which or all of these were factors) landed in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Once there, he established himself as a talented organizer, recruiter and soldier. He was appointed (along with another expatriate, Che Guevara) to the rank of "commandante". However, his career followed a short arc: he was executed by the Castro regime on March 11, 1961 an accused (and actual) counter-revolutionary. When compared to the Grann article, Shetterly's biography is both more complete and less interesting: it lacks the piquancy of the Grann report and it is also less focused.

Morgan was raised in Toledo, Ohio and found little there of interest. He served briefly in the US Army and subsequently drifted. Eventually (December, 1957), he landed in Cuba. Once there, he contacted representatives of a revolutionary group operating in the Escambray mountains. His original intention was to join Fidel's group (operating since 1956) in the Sierra Maestra area and communicated his desire to be both on the side of good and on the edge of danger; this seems more redolent of an idealist and an adventurer, rather than an ideologue or mercenary. Whatever his motives, Morgan was a successful and popular revolutionist, overcoming skeptical views of his American origins. In relatively short order, Batista was jettisoned and Castro ensconced in power. Morgan set up shop as a commercial frog farmer. In the background, however, two portentous events coalesced to his disadvantage: anti-Communist elements in the Cuban exile community and the US FBI (J.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book. It was easy to read, fast paced, packed with action. It was like an action movie, except true. But even more than the story of William Morgan, the book will give you some insight into other personalities in the revolution and in Cuban society.

It's worth owning the book for the photos of the personalities involved.

I would like to thank Aran Shetterly for taking the time to research and write this book. I think it is a valuable addition to ones Cuba/Castro/Revolution bookshelf.
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