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The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba Paperback – April 1, 2014

4.2 out of 5 stars 58 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As the title suggests, this is a rather dreary portrait of post-Fidel Cuba. Cooke is a journalist and teacher at the New School in New York. Her observations are the result of living in Cuba and interacting with a variety of ordinary Cuban citizens over a five-year period. Her account is absorbing, touching, but certainly depressing. As described here, Cuba is a postrevolutionary culture in which the fires of revolution have burned out. So largely gone is the optimism, the spirit of community and self-sacrifice, and the belief in the creation of “the new socialist man.” What remains, unfortunately, is the political repression, stifling bureaucracy, and material deprivation. Cooke’s narrative includes wonderful vignettes covering the daily lives of Cubans in which their hopes, dreams, and frustrations are revealed. Lucia, a well-educated and relatively privileged young woman, sees little future for herself in Cuba and hopes to emigrate. So does Sandra, a street-smart prostitute who refutes government claims to have ended “exploitation.” But there are snippets of optimism, as citizens bravely and brazenly complain about their government. --Jay Freeman

Review

“Cooke introduces a world that somehow makes sense in its lack of reason, as understood by American readers. An excellent taste of Cuba today, without tourist plans or political agenda.”
Kirkus Reviews

"This irresistible gander at Cuba today features the liveliest prose and the sharpest eye for detail. The contradictions and improvisatory adjustments within this strange society are brought home through a series of vital portraits by the author, Julia Cooke, whose sympathy never gets in the way of her search for the elusive truth."
Phillip Lopate

"With top-notch reporting and an eye for detail, Cooke dives deeply into post-Fidel Cuba to deliver an intimate, exuberant, poignant account of lives spent waiting for change."
Elisabeth Eaves, author of Wanderlust: A Love Affair with Five Continents

"In a series of nimble profiles, Cooke expertly documents what is likely to be the last generation of the lost youth of Cuba—the teens of the transition, with all their contradictions, sorrows, and calluses. The Other Side of Paradise is a tear-through read, full of vitality and compassion."
Deb Olin Unferth, author of Revolution
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Seal Press (April 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580055311
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580055314
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
The Other Side of Paradise offers a loosely structured, highly interesting portrait of the generation of Cubans currently coming of age. The author, Julia Cooke, has traveled to Cuba a number of times—most of this book is based upon a ten-month visit she paid there in 2009. She entered Cuba for this visit on a tourist, not a journalist, visa, which both aids and hinders her explorations. As a tourist, she’s under less scrutiny than a journalist would be and is able to spend time with a variety of Cuban citizens in a variety of locations—but she also runs the risk of being ejected from the country if it becomes clear her visit is primarily journalistic in nature, which limits the kinds of research and record-keeping she can do.

The Cuba she depicts is contradictory. Yes, literacy rates are high (99%), but college graduates have difficulty securing work appropriate to their educations, and unacknowledged racism exacerbates this problem. Cooke cites Esteban Morales Domínguez, a Cuban economist and political scientist, who found that while the country is populated by almost equal proportions of people of European descent, African descent, and mixed heritage “73 percent of scientists and technicians were white. Eighty percent of the professors at the University of Havana [are also white].” In contrast, Cooke notes Morales Domínguez’s data showing that “Blacks were unemployed at twice the rate of whites, which…led to more blackmarket activities, and therefore jails filled with 85 percent darker-skinned Cubans.”

A significant number of women in this Cuba rely on the support of foreigners euphemistically labeled amigos, and Cooke points out that “there aren’t many pimps or third-party intermediaries in the sex trade….
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great book on a great topic. Fascinating to see what Castro's government has wrought on this age group.
Julia's experience and insights offer a different perspective from all the pro or anti Cuban governmental spin out there. The lives that are lived, the hopes and dreams of people... they're portrayed in this book much more realistically. Having an inside track and being as open to new experiences as Julia seems to have been was a godsend for the purpose of this book. Without the connections that Julia made, this book would not have been realized. To know that Julia was operating on a very tenuous platform helped give the book a sense of urgency. (Not sure that even makes sense, in all honesty.)
Julia's honesty and ability to talk to everyday Cubans really helped. The other side of the stories we hear in this country from Cuban expats, or those who have taken government sponsored trips, is what Julia was able to tell. My mom said the book is depressing - I'm not saying it isn't. I'm just saying that it's real. I really liked the fact that Julia was able to return and follow up on some stories and give an update.
I'm grateful for Julia's voice and for her writing. I felt like I was able to smell the breezes and hear the sounds.
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Format: Paperback
THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is an intimate, intriguing chronicle of a culture normally hidden from most U.S. citizens. Author and journalist Julia Cooke closely and dispassionately looks at the lives of our neighbors south of us in the Caribbean Sea, and examines how the Castro brothers and the U.S. embargo affected them. This is a fascinating portrait of the resilience of the human spirit.

Cooke writes about her experiences, first as a U.S. college student and later as a journalist, in Cuba. She deftly describes the lives of several people who befriend her, including a young female prostitute, and eventually, her baby daughter. The cogent socio-historical-economic data woven in with her subjects’ stories deepens the book’s storytelling and insight.

Cooke is a fine writer, with a discerning eye, bright mind, and sharp pen. She vividly brings to life people—educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled, young and old—who relentlessly deal with debilitating poverty and the ubiquitous lack of (small and large) choices in the new Cuba. Looking through a large lens, in context with their unique cultural milieu, Cooke reveals individuals using immense personal resources—or what we Americans call “street smarts”—to daily resolve basic, subsistence issues. She follows individuals and families as they subsist and survive; and shares their efforts to plan, study, learn, love, and celebrate.

That Cooke wrote THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE over a ten year period adds significantly to its strength. The reader is able to gain greater understanding, inspiration, and compassion for the profoundly courageous lives of “regular” people in the new Cuba over the arc of time. Courage required by those who leave, and those who stay.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Subtitled, “Life in the New Cuba,” this book was written by author Julia Cooke, who first visited the country in 2003 when she was twenty and who returned many times – most notably in 2009, when after many visits, she actually moved to Cuba for several months to research this book. The author was interested in what it was like to grow up in Havana as the last generation of Cubans raised with Fidel Castro in charge of their country. Although Cuba has welcomed tourists, most Cubans have not travelled outside their own country – as you will read though, almost all of them discuss and plan leaving endlessly. Raised under a single political party, they live a life of great conformity in many ways, with shared experiences of rationed food and shortages.

Cuba is a country of great extremes. On a positive note, they have a literacy rate of 99%, healthcare for all, little violent crime and rations provide necessities to feed their population. However, changes in Russia has meant that the Soviet subsidies, which held the Cuban economy afloat up to the nineties, have caused the country economic disasters which they are still trying to cope with. The people of Cuba have become adept at coping, using the black market and dreaming of exit visas to what they hope will be a better life.

Cooke intersperses the stories of many young Cubans with her own experiences, in an entertaining and thought provoking read.
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