Customer Reviews: A Cuban Summer
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on April 2, 2014
I laughed and learned my way through this wonderful book. The innocent, adolescent voice and viewpoint of the main character evoked memories of my own youthful misapprehensions and blunders, even though his social milieu and specific experiences were a world apart from my own. Can we empathize with a son of the pre-Castro Cuban plutocracy, with its racism, corruption and inequality? Yes, when he's a smart, gentle and horny soul constantly under pressure from anti-intellectual bullies, stuffed-shirt hypocrites and charming rogues. Yes, when his passage through life is revealed with the humor, insight and unvarnished honesty we get from this fine writer. Imagine a Hispanic Holden Caulfield with Portnoy's complaints -- but a lot more optimism -- and you get the idea.
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on November 5, 2013
This is a sly and touching novel about a boy's introduction to sex and love. The story is cradled in the wealth and comfort of a 1950s Cuba that will be shaken apart in another few years by Fidel Castro and his rebels--but Tony de la Torre is pretty much blind to politics. He has girls on his mind, and his chauffeur is eager to help. "The way Gonzalo saw it, a thirteen-year-old Cuban boy who was still a virgin was headed in the wrong direction."

There is sex with prostitutes, some more appealing to Tony than others, and there are dates with exciting American girls who will kiss and make out a little. Then there are Cuban girls, who don't go on dates without a chaperone. Tony is all for the American way, yet his ultimate goal and probable future is to meet a Cuban girl about his age, go to monitored dances, perhaps kiss a few times, then marry the girl and stay married forever. This is the charm of the book, to see the world of romance and sex through the eyes of someone restrained by a complex set of rules, all of which he questions.

Here's how it works with his partner on the dance floor: "He could try to get Carmen to dance closer by applying a small amount of pressure with his right arm, drawing her towards him, but this would only be met by an equal and opposite force. Newtonian physics, Cuban style."

It's a graceful book that often had me laughing, and that swept me back to my own boyhood. To this day, the sexual drive of young boys is rarely looked upon with any favor. But we were all subject to it, and all had to work out our own accommodations. Tony de la Torre, by American standards, is a precocious boy, but he has little guile and less cruelty. From start to finish, we're rooting for him.


(One unfortunate note: Capra Press has done a shaky job with this admirable little book. The printing on several even-numbered pages is faded on one side, and there are too many typos. On one page the desserts are flans, on another they're flanes. On one page it's Cris-Craft, and five pages later it's Chris Craft. Is it Benny More, or is Benny Moré correct? It's Moré, and we need a copy editor.)
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on January 5, 2014
Roomed with the author in "prep school" and wondered what he had been up to. After reading this, I wrote him that Freud and his followers would find this a real study. On the other hand he has shared in an often amusing way what it was for a youngster from a well-to-do-family to live in Cuba pre-Castro. He and others who had to leave (lucky enough to leave?) Cuba faced changes hard to fathom for most of us.
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on October 11, 2013
A Cuban Summer's dedication is to the "Cuba before Fidel that I remember with affection, a country that overflowed with energy, laughter, and many imperfections." It's this dedication that sets the stage for a novel replete with Cuban culture, ideals, and changes; all set against the backdrop of 1954 where Tony de la Torre comes of age during one memorable summer.

Tony is no ordinary lad: his family is wealthy and he's been raised by servants with the trappings of inherited luxury. So when Tony's coming of age coincides with the many social and political changes affecting Cuba's place in the world, the forces affecting both Tony and pre-Castro Cuba are brought to the foreground in a novel replete with social and sexual tension and growth.

One wouldn't expect to have a humorous overtone running through a story which embraces so many personal and political changes, but in fact A Cuban Summer uses such humor as a binding force to capture the spirit and lively peoples of the land, and this is one of the features that makes this novel so endearing.

Another notable feature: by choosing an adolescent boy's viewpoint, the changes brought about by social and personal forces come neatly together in a perspective that can be readily understood by Cubans as well as those with little prior familiarity with the country's peoples and politics.

From family and religious roles to the increasing intrusion of politics into personal and public affairs, A Cuban Summer neatly captures the atmosphere of a very Catholic, very well- defined society which stands on the brink of revolutionary changes.

Tony Mendoza's storytelling ability is only equaled by his ability to capture a teen's evolving emotions: "The young woman who ran that coffee machine was as attractive as a movie star, in Tony's opinion. He often went to the coffee stand after school and asked her for a cortadito, a small cup of espresso. What he especially liked about her was how she always referred to her clients as mi amor, or mi vida, my life. She seemed to be on intimate terms with everyone. When Tony ordered his cortadito she often said: como estás, mi amorcito? How are you, my little love? It was worth getting a cup of coffee at that stand just to hear her say that."

Tony's blossoming feelings for young Carmen (and other girls) and his assessments of how to enter into a "proper Cuban courtship", his evolving awareness of philosophy and ecological and world relationships, and his eventual realization that Cuba lives in his soul as much as he spends time on its soil makes for a blossoming saga of a summer during which everything - even his relationship with Cuba - will change.

In the end you have a bittersweet, gentle novel steeped in old-world Cuban culture and sentiments that provides readers with a lovely snapshot of old world values in flux. When his changing, evolving and terrific summer is over, Tony will find himself in a new place: one in which his own presence in the old world has become a memory of the past.

D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, MBR
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on October 15, 2013
Tony is a child of the 50s growing up in a changing Cuba where old world customs and superstitions rule while time stops for no man and neither does progress. Mendoza's Cuba is colorfully and nostalgically written. His affection for the country and time shine through the narrative. The country of Cuba is a character unto itself in A Cuban Summer and truly one of the best ones.

Tony comes from a wealthy family which affords him certain luxuries and freedoms that other characters of the era may not enjoy enhancing the experience for the reader and as the character heads for broadening our experience of a long gone Cuba. We're able to leave Havana and follow him to Varadero Beach where his grandparents own a home. Tony's family is restrictive in that they don't talk about a politically changing Cuba as discussion of politics is forbidden. Employees of the family help shape Tony's view of the world and enable him to do things he would never have imagined being able to do that ultimately shape who he is as a character. To Mendoza's credit, everything about the way Tony is written screams of an authentic 13-year-old character. Tony is a character written so well that he springs from the page.

A Cuban Summer was a fun read. Tony and the story are written with a respect to real human experience. Tony experiences laughter, love, sadness and the sweet pain of growing up. His journey through this story was one that we've heard a thousand times with truly special and unique spin.

Mendoza is a great writer and A Cuban Summer is a fabulous novel. If you like nostalgic works that speak with the spirit of a long gone era, pick this one up today.
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on November 21, 2013
Always being fascinated with Cuba in the '50s, the cultural and intelectual underpinnings brought me to this book, and I enjoyed every minute of the snapshot of Cuban society at its peak before the revolution and its decay under Castro. Tony takes us on trip through the elite's lifestyle of the time, and the blossoming of youth into adulthood. Well worth the time to pick up copy!
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on January 13, 2014
A wonderful story, Tony De La Torre's Cuban Summer of 1954. The auspicious start tells us of a free spirit, a thirteen year old boy with fortune standing on his shoulder, lighting his path. Likeable, charming, handsome, and intelligent. And a scion of wealth. His surroundings always amenable to his action and enterprise. Planned or impromptu.

Unconcerned by the strictures of school, religion, or parental rules, all to bend in his favor. There is a decidedly Spanish Main swashbuckler-in-training flavor to most of Tony's adolescent pranks. And those which might backfire are easily skirted or squirmed out of. After all, most everything is done and taken lightly: a sensitive young soul hemmed in by rules wafted off by breezes of permissiveness. Elders and servants conveniently stand by to expedite, even unwittingly, the tasting of experience, more often than not, sexual. Tarts, strumpets, whores, and harlots come by and go away, casually enough that lasting traces merely wash off, all soon forgotten.

Then love, with more purchase on the imagination, engages his soul in seeking answers for his eager heart. But there are always pending questions, sublimated desires, and faded dreams, The answers cannot be found at the confessional, leaving an enraged priest to scream his fury at the haphazard doings of the adolescent.

Boleros on the beach tell us how pain can be assuaged by distance. And as young hearts pursue their rites of passage aftermaths, a window opens into the future, that hope can spring eternal yet again.
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on September 6, 2013
A Cuban Summer is a beautifully written, hilariously told tale of a 13-year old boy's coming of age in pre-Castro Cuba. In the summer of 1954 young Tony de la Torre--the shy, insecure, sensitive son of a well-to-do Cuban family--is obsessed with the other sex, as are most boys his age everywhere. Tony's thoughts quickly turn to action as he tags along with his debonair, adventurous friend Emilio, who leads his astounded friend from one eye-opening engagement with the opposite sex to another, be it in the elegant El Encanto department store's lingerie section or at the swanky brothel, the Mambo Club.
Parents, do you know what your 13-year old son did this summer? Surely Tony's did not in 1954, when the mores of Cuban high society resembled those of 19th century Spain--chaperones, weekly confessions, nannies, formal dinners, debutant parties, country club dances--more than those of the United State just 90 miles to the north, where Elvis Presley was rocking and rolling and James Dean was rebelling.
Alas, all's well that ends well, and so it did for Tony, while spending the lion's share of his summer, as he did every summer, with his family at his grandparents' vacation house on Varadero Beach. Here Tony, overcoming his near paralyzing insecurities, wins the heart of and secures his first kiss from a proper young Cuban girl, his "first love," and in so doing determines that true love trumps unrestrained licentiousness. A sweet revelation indeed!
In reading A Cuban Summer, I found myself laughing hysterically, principally at Tony's riotous behavior, but also at memories of my own adolescent "first love."
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on August 26, 2013
Move over Holden Caulfield and make room for Tony de la Torre. "A Cuban Summer" brings us another fascinating coming of age story as seen through the lens of an adolescent boy. If Holden is anti-social, Tony wants simply to fit in and enjoy all that life has to offer to an upper-class Cuban. What Tony sees around him is an idyllic world that he wants to fully experience- especially the sex.
But in a culture that values boys who can fight, tell funny stories and know how to dance, he can do none of these. Worse, he is shy with girls. As you turn the pages you cannot help but feel what he feels and delight in his exploits.
Mendoza, who is a wonderful story teller, has written what is at times a very funny book. At the same time,he offers us a most insightful look at pre-revolutionary Cuban society. While you get a sense of family relations and the role of the Church, you clearly see the roles played by women and men as well as servants and their employers.
There are even hints of what is to come. We learn that the family patriarch forbids discussion of politics and insists that avoiding politics has insured his prosperity. Tony only hears the servants talk about politics. Even more telling, at one point he muses in reaction to a friend's comment-they were lucky to be rich which is a lot better than being poor.
In Tony's Cuba, music is always in the air, whether in Havana or the summer community at Varadero beach. Music with lyrics that describe the kind of love and romance that he cannot get out of his mind.
You will fall in love with this novel.
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on March 9, 2014
-We were young. War, politics, or money pushed us to these shores and since then we are part of America. We left everything there except our memories. As time goes by these memories became stronger, idealized, melancholic perhaps.
A Cuban Summer is the story of the protagonist's awakening to manhood in an old fashioned society firmly anchored in conventional values. It is also the fascinating chronicle of a world on the brink of catastrophe, seen from the naive perspective of a teenager. A Cuban Summer also chronicles a joy-ride to the loss of innocence and to a promising life, told sincerely with uninhibited realism.
Tony Mendoza has overcome nostalgia in this beautifully written novel, in which he observes reality from a humorous and detached perspective.
Salvador García Castañeda
Professor of Spanish
The Ohio State University
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