There’s something for everyone in this portrait of Cuba as a nation full of paradoxes that seem to exasperate residents and observers alike, regardless of political affiliation.
Gedda (Dominican Connection, 2009) draws on more than 30 years of experience as a reporter for the Associated Press in this wide-ranging work that he accurately describes as “part memoir, part anecdote, part history, and part analysis.” Along those lines, the thematic organization of the book seems to mimic a series of sketches or snapshots that sometimes overlap by necessity or design, so the occasional repetition of material in different chapters doesn’t diminish its value or impact. From the outset, the author situates himself nicely, detailing the extent of his contact with Cubans while also recognizing the limitations of his perspective as an outsider. His press credentials only take him so far, but definitely farther than most Americans could hope to venture given the travel restrictions still in place and the rationing of information, a notable concept that appears throughout the text. Gedda skillfully juxtaposes the achievements and failures of the Cuban Revolution—a high literacy rate alongside compromised media outlets and limited Internet access, universal health care without basic medical supplies and a free educational system that produces well-trained graduates who sacrifice professional careers in order to earn hard currency by serving tourists. Serious problems with housing, transportation, nutrition and race relations do not escape Gedda’s view. The author thus goes beyond statistics to demonstrate concrete strategies of survival in a land of scarcity; he lists, for instance, the components of improvised brake fluid and the ingredients of a meatless dish known as “grapefruit steak.” Additionally, his inclusion of recent policy changes on both sides of the Straits of Florida suggests the potential for significant shifts in U.S./Cuba relations and, more poignantly, underscores an uncertain future for all Cubans, whether living on the island or in exile.
Even for readers familiar with Cuban history, there are many discoveries to be made here.