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Books to read before visiting Cuba

Books to read before visiting Cuba

by cubapura

If you’re planning your visit to Cuba you have probably read our guide to Cuba for beginners, know all about the particularities of money and the internet in Cuba and how to travel from one place to another without getting ripped off. There is more to Cuba than practical information though, and while gorgeous photos on Instagram can pique your interest, books can be a window to Cuba’s people, history and culture.

History

Havana Archive

Photographer Basil Hyman discovered this trove of Cuban treasures in Paris, and it led him on a voyage of discovery to Havana’s rich past.

This lavishly illustrated book includes photographs, postcards, flyers, tickets and brochures, which conjure up the atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Cuba and some of those associated with it. 

Sugar King of Havana

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Known in his day as the King of Sugar, Julio Lobo was the wealthiest man in prerevolutionary Cuba. He had a life fit for Hollywood: he barely survived both a gangland shooting and a firing squad, and courted movie stars such as Joan Fontaine and Bette Davis. Only when he declined Che Guevara’s personal offer to become Minister of Sugar in the Communist regime did Lobo’s decades-long reign in Cuba come to a dramatic end. Drawing on stories from the author’s own family history and other tales of the island’s lost haute bourgeoisie, The Sugar King of Havana is a rare portrait of Cuba’s glittering past—and a hopeful window into its future.

Havana Nocturnal

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In modern-day Havana, the remnants of the glamorous past are everywhere—old hotel-casinos, vintage American cars & flickering neon signs speak of a bygone era that is widely familiar & often romanticized, but little understood. In Havana Nocturne, T.J. English offers a multifaceted true tale of organized crime, political corruption, roaring nightlife, revolution & international conflict that interweaves the dual stories of the Mob in Havana & the event that would overshadow it, the Cuban Revolution.

Cuba: A history

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Hugh Thomas’s acclaimed book explores the whole sweep of Cuban history from the British capture of Havana in 1762 through the years of Spanish and United States domination, down to the twentieth century and the extraordinary revolution of Fidel Castro. 

Contemporary Novels

Next Year in Havana

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Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

Last Honest Man In Havana

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It is 1988 and Rafael Áviles, an engineer at the Cuban Mint in Havana, is a young, earnest Communist Party member living with his ambitious wife, Elena. When Rafael is drafted to the war in Angola, just as he is about to become a father, he takes a risk to escape the military—convinced he is doing what’s best for his country.

Havana Without Makeup

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Havana without Makeup is the ultimate insider’s view of Havana, a wide-ranging exploration of its complex facets as seen by few. Its aim is to capture the soul of a city and a society that have evolved on their own terms at the moment before they face inevitable transformations.

Dirty Havana Trilogy

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Banned in Cuba but celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, this picaresque novel in stories chronicles the misadventures of Pedro Juan, a former Cuban journalist living from hand to mouth in the squalor of contemporary Havana, half disgusted and half fascinated by the depths to which he has sunk. 

Classics

Cecilia Valdés by Cirilo Villaverde

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Cecilia Valdés is arguably the most important novel of 19th century Cuba. Originally published in New York City in 1882, Cirilo Villaverde’s novel has fascinated readers inside and outside Cuba since the late 19th century. In this new English translation, a vast landscape emerges of the moral, political, and sexual depravity caused by slavery and colonialism. Set in the Havana of the 1830s, the novel introduces us to Cecilia, a beautiful light-skinned mulatta, who is being pursued by the son of a Spanish slave trader, named Leonardo. Unbeknownst to the two, they are the children of the same father. Eventually Cecilia gives in to Leonardo’s advances; she becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl. When Leonardo, who gets bored with Cecilia after a while, agrees to marry a white upper class woman, Cecilia vows revenge. A mulatto friend and suitor of hers kills Leonardo, and Cecilia is thrown into prison as an accessory to the crime.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

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MI6’s man in Havana is Wormold, a former vacuum-cleaner salesman turned reluctant secret agent out of economic necessity. To keep his job, he files bogus reports based on Charles Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare and dreams up military installations from vacuum-cleaner designs. Then his stories start coming disturbingly true…

The Old Man and The Sea

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The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. 

Havana: a subtropical delirium

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A city of tropical heat, sweat, ramshackle beauty, and its very own cadence–a city that always surprises–Havana is brought to pulsing life by New York Times bestselling author Mark Kurlansky .Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider’s view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky’s own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city’s singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.

Music

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love; by Oscar Hijuelos

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It’s 1949 and two young Cuban musicians make their way from Havana to the grand stage of New York City. It is the era of mambo, and the Castillo brothers, workers by day, become stars of the dance halls by night, where their orchestra plays the lush, sensuous, pulsing music that earns them the title of the Mambo Kings. This is their moment of youth, exuberance, love, and freedom―a golden time that decades later is remembered with nostalgia and deep affection.

Cuba and its Music

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This entertaining history of Cuba and its music begins with the collision of Spain and Africa and continues through the era of Miguelito Valdés, Arsenio Rodríguez, Benny Moré, and Pérez Prado. It offers a behind-the-scenes examination of music from a Cuban point of view, unearthing surprising, provocative connections and making the case that Cuba was fundamental to the evolution of music in the New World.

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