The best books about Havana Cuba

2 authors have picked their favorite books about Havana Cuba and why they recommend each book.

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The Art of White Roses

By Viviana Prado-Núñez,

Book cover of The Art of White Roses

The Puerto Rican author draws on her grandmother’s experience to tell the story of a girl in Cuba on the cusp of revolution. While the historical fiction follows the day-to-day of the girl emerging to teen-hood and her family – brother, mother, father, and abuelo – it also feels dangerous as bombs go off, people are disappeared, and shadows of a more personal kind encroach on her familial bliss. Through this prism, the reader gets a sense of the class and power dynamics at play, from school where sadistic nuns are the law to the Law which acts with cruel impunity, and the resentment, heartache, and violence simmering underneath the alluring resort island. It’s the pressure cooker on the verge of blowing its lid for me!


Who am I?

I am an Antiguan-Barbudan writer. When I was a teen, there weren’t a lot of books from my world. So, I was excited when the Burt Award for teen/young adult Caribbean literature was announced. While that prize ran its course after five years, it left a library of great books in this genre, including my own Musical Youth which placed second in the inaugural year of the prize. I have since served as a judge of the Caribbean prize and mentor for the Africa-leg. I love that this series of books tap into different genres and styles in demonstrating the dynamism of modern Caribbean literature. For more on me, my books, and my take on books, visit my website.


I wrote...

Musical Youth

By Joanne C. Hillhouse,

Book cover of Musical Youth

What is my book about?

Musical Youth follows Zahara, Shaka, and their mixed group of friends over a summer of music, creativity, personal discovery, and love in Antigua. It has been a CODE Burt Award finalist for teen/young adult Caribbean literature; and a Kirkus Book of the Year, and top teen and romance indie. It received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, and has variously been described as a “must-read”, “compelling”, “beautifully crafted”, and “un-put-downable” by readers and critics alike.

While tackling themes like colourism and family secrets, it also manages to be joyful. Per Caribbean Beat magazine, its strength is in “never shying away from the truth about our problems, while simultaneously celebrating the hard-won historical joys of our freedom – as citizens and music makers alike.”  

The Confidential Agent

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment

Graham Greene is another master craftsman of thriller novels that explore political, moral, and ethical ambiguities in a way that both entertains and provokes. Better known for Our Man in Havana, Greene was sufficiently uncomfortable with The Confidential Agent that he wanted it published under a pseudonym. Yet I agree with critics that this tale of a foreign agent’s covert efforts to buy British coal to fuel a European civil war is among his best. Greene reputedly wrote it in six weeks, assisted by a diet of amphetamines and an affair with his landlady’s daughter, giving the novel a pace and rawness that reflect its creation.  


Who am I?

Four of my formative years were spent in Iran and England where I became intrigued by the history and politics that shaped the Middle East. An avid reader, I was intrigued by how effectively international thrillers, particularly those by British authors, captured the mystery, complexity, and murky ambiguities of global politics. When I launched a second career as a writer, I committed to using international thrillers as a vehicle for exposing readers to other peoples and cultures and to the unending moral dilemmas that shape our political world. My aspiration is to present those stories as effectively and provocatively as the five writers recommended in my list! 


I wrote...

The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

By Allen Kent, Jillian Farnsworth (illustrator),

Book cover of The Shield of Darius (The Unit 1 Series)

What is my book about?

In this first novel in Allen Kent’s gripping Unit 1 Thriller Series, businessman Benjamin Sager is abducted while vacationing with his family in Europe, awakening in a small cell occupied only by another captive American. As Sager struggles to determine where he is and why he is being held, Chris Falen, an agent of the CIA’s covert Unit 1 team, uncovers a disturbing pattern of unexplained American tourist disappearances, seemingly vanishing without a trace.

A timely and relevant thriller, The Shield of Darius explores the complexities and ambiguities of global politics while taking the reader on a heart-stopping dive into the maze of international espionage and political intrigue. Falen’s investigation of the missing Americans and Sager’s desperate will to survive collide head-on as both are drawn into the deadly web of the Shield of Darius.

Origins

By Amin Maalouf,

Book cover of Origins: A Memoir

I read Maalouf's book many years ago and it remains one of the best books I have ever read about identity. It helps that he is a gifted writer and that Maalouf's story is so compelling.


Who am I?

Steven A. Cook is the Eni Enrico Mattei senior fellow for the Middle East and Africa studies and director of the International Affairs Fellowship for Tenured International Relations Scholars at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). He is a columnist at Foreign Policy magazine and an expert on Arab and Turkish politics as well as U.S. Middle East policy. 


I wrote...

The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

By Steven A. Cook,

Book cover of The Struggle for Egypt: From Nasser to Tahrir Square

What is my book about?

The Struggle for Egypt is a sweeping political history of Egypt that takes readers from the crystallization of Egyptian nationalism in the late 19th century up to the January 2011 uprising against Hosni Mubarak. The book underscores that Egypt was never as stable as commonly assumed and that the demonstrations that shook Egypt a decade were consistent with a long history during which Egyptians rebelled against their leaders. This accessible text, written from a "close to the ground" perspective, provides invaluable insight into the Middle East's largest and most influential country. It is for history buffs, policy geeks, and Middle East obsessives.

Our Man in Havana

By Graham Greene,

Book cover of Our Man in Havana

A second Graham Greene book but no apologies! Greene split his novels between the serious, like The Human Factor, and what he called ‘entertainments.’ Our Man in Havana, a black comedy, sits very firmly in the second category with Greene drawing inspiration from Garbo and Ostro, two German agents and skilled fabricators he dealt with during the Second World War, to ridicule his former profession. The British secret service’s ‘Man in Havana’ is James Wormold, a cash-strapped vacuum cleaner salesman, who creates an entirely false network of intelligence agents. When they produce the plans for a supposed top-secret Cuban military establishment, with Wormold basing the shapes of its installations on various parts of a vacuum cleaner, it leads to a series of tragic-comedic results.


Who am I?

I’m a former military intelligence officer who left the British Army to become a journalist, initially with the BBC, then with The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times, working as a war correspondent in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and breaking a number of key stories, including the infamous Downing St Memos which exposed the truth about the intelligence that led to the 2003 war in Iraq. I have written a number of books on intelligence, including the UK number one bestseller Station X and the New York Times bestseller Killer Elite.


I wrote...

Ritter: No Man Dies Twice

By Michael Smith,

Book cover of Ritter: No Man Dies Twice

What is my book about?

No Man Dies Twice is the first book in a series about Peter Ritter, a German detective during the Second World War who investigates a series of murders connected to a plot by the British Special Operations Executive to kill Hitler. The British secret service MI6 is violently opposed to the idea of assassinating the German leader, partly because he is a poor general whose plans will inevitably lead to Germany’s defeat but also because killing him will create a martyr around whom the German people will rally. Ritter’s old-fashioned determination to do his job regardless of what his Nazi bosses want, and the danger that poses to him, leave him with only two possible allies, the Gestapo or a woman he believes to be a ruthless British spy.

Making Art Global (Part 1)

By Rachel Weiss, Luis Camnitzer, Coco Fusco, Geeta Kapur, Charles Esche

Book cover of Making Art Global (Part 1): The Third Havana Biennial 1989, Exhibition Histories Vol. 2

This book is part of a series that extensively documents watershed modern and contemporary exhibitions. The Havana Biennial of 1989 was especially important because it developed what has been called South-South connections in the exhibition of contemporary artin other words, connections between different parts of the Global South or non-West that are not routed through European or North American art capitals. This was possible because, during the Cold War, Cuba maintained extensive cultural networks throughout the so-called Third World


Who am I?

I have been professionally involved with contemporary art since the 1980s, when I was a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In the forty years since I've seen an enormous shift in the orientation of American curators and scholars from Western art to a global perspective. After earning my PhD at Harvard, and writing several books on contemporary art, I wanted to tackle the challenge of a truly comparative contemporary art history. To do so, I've depended on the burgeoning scholarship from a new more diverse generation of art historians, as well as on many decades of travel and research. My book Heritage and Debt is an attempt to synthesize that knowledge. 


I wrote...

Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization

By David Joselit,

Book cover of Heritage and Debt: Art in Globalization

What is my book about?

If European modernism was premised on the new—on surpassing the past, often by assigning it to the “traditional” societies of the Global South—global contemporary art reanimates the past as a resource for the present. In this account of what globalization means for contemporary art, David Joselit argues that the creative use of tradition by artists from around the world serves as a means of combatting modern art's legacy of Eurocentrism. Modernism claimed to live in the future and relegated the rest of the world to the past. Joselit analyzes not only how heritage becomes contemporary through the practice of individual artists but also how a cultural infrastructure of museums, biennials, and art fairs worldwide has emerged as a means of generating economic value, attracting capital and tourist dollars.

Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban

By Lisa Wixon,

Book cover of Dirty Blonde and Half-Cuban

I also write about this book in my work. I again have problems with it, but it gives a kind of slice-of-life snapshot of Cuban life at that moment (around 2005), and especially about jineteras, or “jockeys,” women who supplement their income by going out with wealthy foreigners. Doing research on that book gave me a look at Cuba that was invaluable. And it is sometimes funny. It serves as a kind of coda to my book in that it reproduces many of the rhetorical moves of other chica lit but in a completely different setting. 


Who am I?

As a university professor, I often teach popular women’s writing, and I realized that I needed to teach Latinx popular fiction as well. Women’s popular writing in the United States reflects but also shapes the way women see themselves in a global neoliberal world. After I had written an article on class and Chicanx and Latinx fiction, I also realized that class and race are key to thinking about how Latinas/Chicanas both create and follow market trends in an effort to “better” themselves in addition to showing how various Latinas/Chicanas see each other in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender.  


I wrote...

Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century

By Tace Hedrick,

Book cover of Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century

What is my book about?

In Chica Lit: Popular Latina Fiction and Americanization in the Twenty-First Century, Tace Hedrick illuminates how discourses of Americanization, ethnicity, gender, class, and commodification shape the genre of “chica lit,” popular fiction written by Latina authors with Latina characters. She argues that chica lit is produced and marketed in the same ways as contemporary romance and chick lit fiction. Its stories about young women’s ethnic class mobility and gendered romantic success tend to celebrate twenty-first-century neoliberal narratives about Americanization, hard work, and individual success. However, Hedrick emphasizes, its focus on Latina characters necessarily inflects this celebratory mode: the elusiveness of meaning in its use of the very term “Latina” empties out the differences among and between Latina/o and Chicano/a groups in the United States.

One Hundred Bottles

By Ena Lucía Portela, Achy Obejas (translator),

Book cover of One Hundred Bottles

This novel is both sexy and chilling. It is the journey of a young woman, about her lovers, the intimacy of friendship, and her alluring social life in Havana, Cuba. With each page you sip the intensity of youth and political drama on the island. After traveling to Cuba to protest the US embargo in the 1990s and living for so many years in Miami with friends in the Cuban diaspora, Cuban's transnational socio-cultural complex frames how I think about islands. I relish how Portela writes, she is the friend who coaxes you out, keeps you up all night, with the promises of thrill, excitement, and a bit of danger. 


Who am I?

Iʻve been travelling to islands before realizing I was seeking them. It was my political convictions that brought me to Haiti and Cuba, and later to Indonesia and Thai Islands due to my philosophical interests. When I headed to Greece for the first time it was to Corfu and the Peloponnese, my lineage, but also to Ithaca, Crete, the Cyclades, and eventually to Lesvos. Now I live in Hawaiʻi. I was attracted to the poetics of island landscapes, but as a scholar of space, society, and justice, I also understood that islands hold distinct sets of constraints and opportunities that require further study with intersectional and decolonial perspectives.


I wrote...

Sappho's Legacy: Convivial Economics on a Greek Isle

By Marina Karides,

Book cover of Sappho's Legacy: Convivial Economics on a Greek Isle

What is my book about?

It is an ethnographic and historical account that includes extensive interviews with Greek women cooperatives and micro-entrepreneurs, and the lesbian enclave in Skala Eresos on Lesvos. Set between Europe and West Asia, Lesvos offers an ideal setting to identify the subtleties of Northern European imperialism and the ethnicization of Greeks to demean Greek economic practices past and present. Sappho’s Legacy reveals that Greek island cultures hold robust forms of ancient and contemporary practices of hospitality, negotiated rather than contracted economic ties, and conviviality, that counter the neoliberal ethos. The volume combines post-colonial queer and feminist and lesbian analyses of space and economy to develop an understanding of Lesvos' island food system and the collective resistance it embodies across a diverse group of actors. 

Cuba Open from the Inside

By Chris Messner,

Book cover of Cuba Open from the Inside: Travels in the Forbidden Land

Cuba occupies a place of undisputed fascination in the American psyche. This island nation remains a mystery to most Americans despite its proximity to America. Few Americans have traveled to Havana, and still fewer have traveled deeper into this isolated country.

Chris Messner, a photographer, is one of the few Americans who have been able to travel extensively throughout this island. In his book, Cuba Open from the Inside, Messner documents the character of Cuba's people, its rich history, and the country's vast culture.

As Cuba's leaders age and the possibility of travel to Cuba increases, this book acts as an exceptional resource for would-be travelers. Through multiple journeys, Messner has covered more than 4,000 miles on the back roads of Cuba. Through his words and pictures he provides a snapshot of this island nation and documents the Cuba of today—the 1950s time capsule country located 90 miles from…


Who am I?

In today’s tech-obsessed world, social media may well be the perfect platform to showcase the world’s beauty to armchair travelers across the globe, but travel is so much more than just getting that perfect Instagram shot. Travel should be meaningful. It should excite and inspire you, rejuvenate and ground you, educate and challenge you, and most importantly, humble you. Travel gives us our most wondrous stories, our most cherished memories, and countless irreplaceable learnings that we can choose to pay forward to others. It teaches us about ourselves and each other, it broadens our horizons, and, just like a reset button, it forces us to refocus on what matters.


I wrote...

Mutiny of Rage: The 1917 Camp Logan Riots and Buffalo Soldiers in Houston

By Jaime Salazar,

Book cover of Mutiny of Rage: The 1917 Camp Logan Riots and Buffalo Soldiers in Houston

What is my book about?

Salado Creek, Texas, 1918: Thirteen black soldiers stood at attention in front of gallows erected specifically for their hanging. They had been convicted of participating in one of America’s most infamous black uprisings, the Camp Logan Mutiny, otherwise known as the 1917 Houston Riots. The revolt and ensuing riots were carried out by men of the 3rd Battalion of the all-black 24th U.S. Infantry Regiment—the famed Buffalo Soldiers—after members of the Houston Police Department violently menaced them and citizens of the local black community. This took place over one single bloody night.

In the wake of the uprising, scores lay dead, including bystanders, police, and soldiers. This incident remains one of Texas’ most complicated and misrepresented historical events. Mutiny of Rage sheds new light on a suppressed chapter in U.S. history.

Interesting Times

By Eric Hobsbawm,

Book cover of Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life

Hobsbawm was both one of the most influential professional historians of the twentieth century and a lifelong communist. As a historian, Hobsbawm had no illusions about the failures of twentieth-century communist regimes. His life story illustrates how a commitment to communism entailed far more than an endorsement of Stalin or the Soviet Union. A schoolboy in Berlin when the Nazis came to power, Hobsbawm, associated communism with antifascism. In his autobiography, he offers not a confession or a justification for his membership in the communist party, but an effort to explain what he calls the “wars of secular religion” that devastated so much of the twentieth century.


Who am I?

When in the summer of 1991, I stood with the crowds at Moscow’s White House during the attempted coup against Gorbachev, I had the sense that I was living through and in a small, but not unimportant way, making history. I left Moscow fascinated by the questions of how big historical events shape individuals’ lives and how personal circumstances influence public action and commitments. My books explore how children experienced and made sense of the Russian Revolution; how survivors of the World War II blockade of Leningrad interacted with official state commemorations of the war; and how international communists explained and remembered their participation in the Spanish Civil War.


I wrote...

International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

By Lisa Kirschenbaum,

Book cover of International Communism and the Spanish Civil War: Solidarity and Suspicion

What is my book about?

The Spanish Civil War was a critical event in the history of international communism and in the lives of international communists. Many communists affirmed, then and later, that in Spain they lived their ideals more intensely, passionately, and fully than they had anywhere else.

My book tracks international communists from the Lenin School in Moscow to the battlefields of Spain. I follow their postwar paths into the early Cold War, when Spanish Civil War veterans figured prominently among the victims of the spy mania that gripped both sides of the iron curtain. My research draws together state and communist party archives and a wealth of intimate letters and autobiographies to capture the personal dimensions of political commitments. Even for those communists who eventually left the party, the Spanish Civil War often remained a defining moment of their own life stories and personal relationships.

When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba

By Basil Woon,

Book cover of When It’s Cocktail Time in Cuba

Privately published in 1928 by Horace Liveright, British playwright and journalist Basil Woon captured the energy that took hold of Havana during Prohibition in the USA, as Americans flocked by the thousands to drink, gamble, and party served by hundreds of Cuban and self-exiled American bartenders amid the tropical beauty that is Cuba. This book opened my eyes to clues that helped me sort out the true origins of the Mary Pickford, the Mojito, and the El Presidente. While my husband and I travelled to Havana once a year for ten years, this book guided us to the places we wanted to visit to capture the spirit and essence of Cuban cocktails.


Who am I?

I’ve been researching and writing with my co-author husband Jared Brown about spirits and mixed drinks for three decades. After writing more than three dozen books plus hundreds of articles about the history and origins of alcoholic beverages, you could say I am addicted to the topic in a big way. While we’ve travelled and tasted drinks around the world we’ve also amassed a few thousand books on the subject. It’s served as a launch point of our secondary careers as drinks consultants and master distillers for global spirits brands. I'm currently finishing my doctoral thesis on early-modern English brewing at the University of Bristol to put a feather on the cap of my long career.


I wrote...

Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, Book Two

By Anistatia R. Miller, Jared McDaniel Brown,

Book cover of Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, Book Two

What is my book about?

The second volume of an award-winning two-part history, Spirituous Journey: A History of Drink, Volume 2 revisits and revises much of what is generally known about spirits and mixed drink history, covering the eighteenth through twentieth centuries. A few surprises include the earliest known use of the word “cocktail” in a London newspaper in 1798; the Tom & Jerry was not named after or invented by Jerry Thomas; and the true stories behind the origins of both the Bloody Mary and Bloody Cesar. Spirituous Journey reminds readers that the world of spirits and drinks is more than just a shake, stir, or throw. There's pride in a rich history, too.

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