An affectionate, richly detailed, brief biography of a unique city.



Journeying through the streets, and history, of Cuba’s famed capital.

An award-winning writer on travel, food, and culture, Kurlansky (Paper: Paging Through History, 2016, etc.) was for 10 years the Chicago Tribune’s Caribbean correspondent. He draws on many visits to the island for a spirited portrait of Havana, “like no other city on earth,” a place of color, contradictions, and, for the author, enticing allure. “Havana, to be truthful, is a mess,” he writes. “The sidewalks are cracked and broken, as are most of the streets.” Walls are sun-bleached, some covered in “various molds, mildews,” and other tropical blights; wood is destroyed by termites. The city “looks like the remnants of an ancient civilization.” But despite troubled infrastructure, it throbs with life: music, dance, art, and food. Kurlansky chronicles the city’s roiling past, beginning in 1492 with Columbus’ landing, followed by Spanish conquest and the incursion of French pirates. Soon, Havana became “a huge slave-trading center” that generated enormous wealth. In fact, “slavery lasted longer in Cuba than anywhere in the Americas.” By 1869, the author reports, there were more than 763,000 whites, 363,000 slaves, and 239,000 “free coloreds” on the island. Slaves could buy their freedom, which led many enslaved women to prostitution. That legacy persisted: until the revolution in 1959, Havana was reputed for its “huge prostitute market.” “For many men,” writes Kurlansky, “a visit to a prostitute was one of the celebrated features of a trip to Havana, along with music, rum, and cigars.” American sugar interests developed the island to facilitate their own profits, bringing railroads and steamship service and selling off cheap land for the construction of villas for the rich minority. Besides focusing on economics and politics, Kurlansky evokes the African-inflected music that dominates the city and provides recipes for some quintessential Cuban dishes, such as the succulent stew known as ajiaco and for the Cuban version of the mojito.

An affectionate, richly detailed, brief biography of a unique city.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63286-391-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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


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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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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