Political antagonisms fail to thwart a cross-cultural love affair.
In April 2001, a few months after her mother died of inoperable liver cancer, Simón took a trip to Cuba with a friend, a journey that proved both eye-opening and life-changing. In her debut memoir, the author recounts both her mother’s death and the trip, which was planned “as an off-path adventure,” featuring salsa and margaritas, and became, in her grief, “an escape, a desperately needed break from life without Mom.” The loss of her mother, she reflects, “had redefined me, springing brain circuits loose.” Noticing the poverty and repression in Castro’s Cuba—food was rationed, all workers were paid equally low wages, Cuban citizens were forbidden to use hotel facilities, and armed police were everywhere—the author wondered “why people even bothered going to school at all, despite the famously good, free education.” Yet despite these conditions, Cubans evinced much laughter, playfulness, and joy. Maybe, she thought, she could revive those feelings in herself—and she did after meeting Luis, a strikingly handsome taxi driver. The attraction was mutual and, she repeatedly attests, electrifying. When Luis first kissed her, she felt “an electric shock.” He made her flash “like a bulb,” and once, when he asked her to take a walk, she felt “a surge of energy…from my chest into my ears.” Their attraction seemed nothing less than “delirium...as we carried on in our escalating and hyper interest.” Their love, however, was threatened by travel restrictions imposed by their respective countries. Simón rushed back into Luis’ arms each time she arrived in Havana, and she wept on each plane ride back to the U.S. Overcoming daunting legal hurdles, they finally married, and Luis managed to come to Savannah, where their family lives.
Some awkward prose and clashing metaphors mar the author’s heartfelt rendering of her Cuban adventure.