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Last Dance in Havana Hardcover – July 6, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The old-time Cuban Buena Vista Social Club may have won riches and international fame with its surprise hit recording and documentary film, but life under Fidel Castro remains a struggle for most of the group's compatriots. This is the story of bands that play in Cuba, hoping to score audiences of foreign tourists or the few Cubans who can cough up a $10 cover charge. This account places life on the island against the backdrop of music, dance and racial politics, and shows how culture is political in Cuba—and for the U.S. officials who control entry visas. Robinson, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, commits two sins common to journalists: an overabundance of taxi drivers' opinions and of accounts of himself taking notes. He also has an annoying tic of referring to the "Carnegie Hall of Cuba," to the "Li'l Bow Wow of Cuba," the "Juilliard of the Caribbean," the "Justin Timberlake of...": you get the picture. But Robinson makes up for that by conveying the energy of, and his passion for, the island, its music and the players. He does an excellent job of recounting how Cuba's hip-hop scene has challenged the regime, getting away with what nobody had until one band finally crossed the line.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Journalist Robinson contends that in the stilted, sociopolitical environment of Castro's Cuba, the real activism comes from the island's musicians, the true journalists and social commentators. On staff at the Washington Post since 1980, Robinson might easily have written his book to read like a dossier, organized to prove his hypothesis. Instead, it is a lush account of a tumultuous, yet resilient, society. Robinson does a fine job of weaving together Cuba's rhythm and politics, deftly sketching a timeline from the pre-socialist nightclub era of the 1950s to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Castro's renewed dissident crackdown. Simultaneously, he notes the advent of hip-hop, a political grenade showing up on the boom boxes and street corners of Havana. He closes with a reference to a traditional Afro-Cuban hymn that poses the question, "Are we, or are we not?" That, he contends, is a refrain Castro cannot ignore. Terry Glover
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (July 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246224
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,342,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Eugene Robinson is a fine journalist who writes with style and confidence. His reportage is highly original. He completely avoids the well-worn path of hoary political analysis and gets out onto the streets and into the clubs of Cuba to produce a fascinating account of modern Cuba at the end of the Castro era. Some of the passages in this book really resonate - travel writing of a high order that illuminates a big picture by reference to the everyday culture of a people who have learned to escape from their oppression by means of the language of music. Arriba Eugene Robinson! This book really does add to the sum of collective knowledge about Cuba.
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Format: Hardcover
The book is an easy read and gives a good feel of Havana in the last few years, especially as regards the music scene. Robinson's ability in capturing the atmosphere, more than anything else, earns him points. The often-made claim that music and culture are intimately tied together in Cuba is given substantial anecdotal evidence based on observation and interviews. His knowledge of the Cuban music scene prior to the advent of rap in the late 90's seems sketchy though, and the book could certainly have been helped with more research here.

Robinson also scores by pondering the intriguing question of whether music might be the source for a nascent civil society in Cuba, though the idea is not entirely new.

His penchant for Afro-Cuban culture and the problematics of racism has its merits, though his presentation of these being the most urgent and potentially boat-rocking social issues lose a little of their thrust when considering that most of his narrative takes place in Havana, and to a lesser extent Santiago and Matanzas, all of them bastions of Afro-Cuban culture. His North American optic is overly obvious at times, and he actually devotes a chapter to US exiles in Cuba.

Unfortunately, Robinson is prone to exaggeration and over-simplified evaluations that he serves en passant as offhand remarks. In quite a few instances, what is passed off as factual is actually speculatory, and all in all his arguments seem based largely on personal experience and not on any serious research. His antipathy toward Europeans (portrayed grossly as pot-bellied sex-seekers) also does little for his credibility.

Definitely worth a read for those who want to know the temperature on Havana's streets and how to read it, and for such sharp and sweaping comments as this one: "In the land of chronic scarcity, about the only things in perpetual surplus are vanity, ingenuity, and time."
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is amazing. It is a poetic and hardhitting view into the life in today's Cuba. Robinson doesn't miss a thing and is very clear about what is good and the many, many problems and flaws. It is hard hitting journalism from a Pultizer Prize winner with an open view to the magic of the dance which is what truly identifies the people of Cuba.
[...]
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Over a ten year period Robinson visits Cuba several times and reports what he has seen. He admires the Cuban people and their ability to endure what Castro has wrought. Above all, Cubans dance. They dance because it doesn't cost much and because that's all they have to relieve their other deprivations.
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