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Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy Paperback – June 7, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"The history of a conversion, from skeptic to believer….The Cuban identity sticks throughout, for Eire spikes his text with Spanish, but a spiritual quest overrides nationality….At this point, he transcends the crowded field of the Cuban American memoir subgenre and, quite effectively, transcends.”
The Miami Herald

“…Irreverent, deeply affecting.…rich with smile-inducing pop-culture references and childhood pleasures. Eire loves Marilyn Monroe; models his speech after Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies; and revels in swimming pools, matinees, the public library, Halloween and, at long last, the mythical snow he finally experiences in Illinois….above all, a story of resilience.”
The Seattle Times

“[Eire] writes with both levity and wisdom about the tension between Carlos the Cuban and Charles the American, describing his process of maturing as ‘learning to die’—or, more prosaically, to let go of worldly attachments such as his childhood memories of life in Cuba. With each move, unrequited schoolyard crush or achievement in his adopted language, he sheds a former self. Eventually he embraces this continual reinvention as itself something distinctly American.”
The Wall Street Journal

“[A] vivid, affecting memoir of survival and coming of age….An engrossing Cuban-American story that will leave readers wanting more.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Eire is a tremendously likable narrator, honest about the limitations of memory, always wearing his heart on his sleeve.…those who remember the exuberant kid from Waiting for Snow in Havana…will be moved by the man he becomes.”
The New York Times Book Review

The latest book club pick from Oprah
"Love Warrior" by Glennon Doyle Melton is the highly anticipated new memoir about the story of her journey of self-discovery after the implosion of her marriage. See more

Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press (June 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439181918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439181911
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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