Friday, December 28, 2007

Carlos Eire: Waiting for Snow in Havana

The whole time I was reading "Waiting for Snow in Havana," I kept thinking that this was the Cuban male version of Sandra Cisneros' "House on Mango Street." Although I liked "Waiting," I liked "House on Mango Street" better. It's probably not a fair comparison, as I read the Cisneros book in middle school, with my favorite English teacher ever, but I think that in the long run, the Cisneros book, which is a novella of a young Chicana girl in Chicago will hold up longer. Eire's book is a memoir of his life in pre- and just-post-Castro Cuba and then just after he is sent to the U.S. in the Pedro Pan project. Cisneros and Eire use similar vignette style story-telling, hopping from story to story in a lose approximation of chronology. This works beautifully in "Mango Street" but falls a little short in "Waiting" as I was left wanting to know so much more about Eire's fragmented childhood.

In reading the afterward, I learned that Eire, portrayed in "Waiting" as a lizard-killing denial specialist (a man after my own heart, though only in the denial part), is a professor of religious studies at Yale. The book is his first attempt at trying to organize and deal with his past: the child of wealthy parents in Batista's Cuba forced to drop everything and become a refugee. The reader learns a lot about what it was like to be a child of wealthy (and odd- Dad thinks he is a reincarnated French king) parents, but very little about what happens next, except in fragments of memories. I found myself wishing this book was an either/or: either a memory of pre-Fidel Cuba or the story of getting forcibly uprooted. I understand that Eire was traumatized and that this book is a sort of spiritual catharsis for him, but it takes some of the power out of the book for the reader.

I liked the book and have decided it was worth reading. I have read so little about Cuba, and it seems like we're not on the fast track to getting any new personal insights, so this book was a rare gift in that way.


wildtomato said...

I tagged you for a meme (check my blog for details). No worries if it's not your cup of tea. Feel free to ignore it.

Your book reviews are reminding me that I haven't read as much as I would've liked to this year. The last book I read was Case Histories. I've been, you guessed it, knitting in my spare time. I suppose some books on tape are in order...