Deft evocations of the island’s sensual promise and oppressive reality.

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CUBA DIARIES

AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE IN HAVANA

A sensitive fish-out-of-water narrative from a visitor to the dictatorship that history nearly forgot.

The author’s husband Nick, energy consultant for a multinational corporation, was posted to Havana in the mid-1990s for four years. Their comparative wealth and status as foreigners secured for the couple and their two children an enormous house with a staff of seven. Tattlin kept a journal of their Cuban experiences, which ranged from sunny to harrowing. She reconfigures this journal into a substantial narrative that portrays the fundamental clash between Castro’s desiccated “triumphant revolution” and the powerful lure of US-influenced multinational consumerism. Because their 40-foot container of household goods takes months to arrive, the family must contend with the diplomatic supermarket’s chronic shortages. Through Nick’s business dealings, they play host to a wide variety of Cubans, finding that communist party officials tend to eat and steal the most, while ordinary citizens resort to a baroque barter system merely to survive. This process is complicated by the Castro regime’s fluctuating stance on economic initiatives; for example, Tattlin’s finest dining occurs in paladares, semi-legal restaurants in private homes that epitomize the rift between Cubans dependent on meager state wages and those who provide services to foreigners. The author is happiest when meeting Cuba’s youthful artists, or traveling in remote regions less affected by the nascent tourist industry (“sex tourism” in particular has begun to exert a corrosive influence). Throughout, she’s attuned to the surreal, mock-1950s domestic atmosphere and the way that Cuba’s prickly international relations seem to revolve around not hurting the regime’s feelings (obviously excepting the American embargo, subject of much internal debate). Tattlin avoids the journal format’s inherent solipsism, leaving even her often chilly marital relationship unexamined, and uses the form as a generous lens upon the Cuban people, convincing the reader that after four decades under Castro they deserve an opportunity for self-determination.

Deft evocations of the island’s sensual promise and oppressive reality.

Pub Date: May 17, 2002

ISBN: 1-56512-349-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

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BECOMING

The former first lady opens up about her early life, her journey to the White House, and the eight history-making years that followed.

It’s not surprising that Obama grew up a rambunctious kid with a stubborn streak and an “I’ll show you” attitude. After all, it takes a special kind of moxie to survive being the first African-American FLOTUS—and not only survive, but thrive. For eight years, we witnessed the adversity the first family had to face, and now we get to read what it was really like growing up in a working-class family on Chicago’s South Side and ending up at the world’s most famous address. As the author amply shows, her can-do attitude was daunted at times by racism, leaving her wondering if she was good enough. Nevertheless, she persisted, graduating from Chicago’s first magnet high school, Princeton, and Harvard Law School, and pursuing careers in law and the nonprofit world. With her characteristic candor and dry wit, she recounts the story of her fateful meeting with her future husband. Once they were officially a couple, her feelings for him turned into a “toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” But for someone with a “natural resistance to chaos,” being the wife of an ambitious politician was no small feat, and becoming a mother along the way added another layer of complexity. Throw a presidential campaign into the mix, and even the most assured woman could begin to crack under the pressure. Later, adjusting to life in the White House was a formidable challenge for the self-described “control freak”—not to mention the difficulty of sparing their daughters the ugly side of politics and preserving their privacy as much as possible. Through it all, Obama remained determined to serve with grace and help others through initiatives like the White House garden and her campaign to fight childhood obesity. And even though she deems herself “not a political person,” she shares frank thoughts about the 2016 election.

An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6313-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 30, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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