OUR WOMAN IN HAVANA by Sarah Rainsford


Reporting Castro’s Cuba
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Sixty years after its revolution, Cuba faces a problematic future.

BBC Moscow correspondent Rainsford makes her literary debut with an insightful and dispiriting portrait of contemporary Cuba. Posted there from 2011 to 2014, and returning twice a year afterward, drawn to Havana’s “warmth and real beauty,” she has observed the island nation in transition as the Castro regime wound down, the U.S. opened trade and travel, and reforms augured hope. Graham Greene’s 1958 novel Our Man in Havana forms a backdrop for Rainsford’s report on the “making and unmaking of Castro’s Cuba.” Greene visited often during Cuba’s decadent, exotic “pleasure era,” when tourists, diplomats, gangsters, and gamblers poured into the “Caribbean Las Vegas.” Rainsford also follows the trail of Ruby Phillips, a New York Times correspondent from 1937 to 1961, witness to the political upheaval that finally impelled her to flee. In contrast to ebullient views of Cuban culture, such as Mark Kurlansky’s Havana, Rainsford characterizes Cuba as a nation “occupied with just staying afloat.” Although some restrictions have been lifted—the internet is more widely accessible—young Cubans see little hope for the future. Despite Raul Castro’s confirmation that he is stepping down, “the words I hear most from both Cubans and expats,” Rainsford writes, “are ‘frozen’ and ‘paralysis.’" “We don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” one young man tells her, explaining why so many of his friends are emigrating. “We’re living day to day. It’s all about getting by, not about having plans and ambitions.” After the revolution, abandoned mansions were partitioned into apartments, but by 2013, Cuba had a huge housing deficit, with many buildings classified “as somewhere between poor and perilous.” Even health care and free schooling have become “increasingly hard to fund and fraying around the edges.” Moreover, an atmosphere of suspicion, aroused in part by the Arab Spring uprisings, led to the installations of surveillance cameras outside the homes of known dissidents; “double speak,” a writer tells Rainsford, “is still a reality of everyday life."

A dark picture of a sun-drenched island.

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-78607-399-0
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2018


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