Friday, July 29, 2016

THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE: LIFE IN THE NEW CUBA by Julia Cooke ✮✮✮

I was hoping to find a book that dealt solely with the differences in the political climate in Cuba since Raul officially took over control from his brother, Fidel, in 2008. My library didn’t have anything, so I read this book as an alternate choice. The book traces the lives of Cubans during the waning years of Fidel’s rule, the temporary transfer of power to Raul in 2006, and finally, since Raul’s assumption of power in his own right in 2008. Julia Cooke focuses on specific “everyman” Cubans and how the policies of those three political eras affected everyday life.

This is one of those books that I really wanted to love but just cannot give a glowing review. For one thing, the subtitle, “Life in the New Cuba,” is hugely misleading. The vast majority of the book deals with Cuba in the waning years of Fidel’s rule, with many journeys into the 1990s and even further back. It is only in the last twenty or so pages of the book that changes that have come about as a result of Raul Castro taking over as president are discussed. There was just not enough balance of information between the old regime and the new to really give a sense of how life is changing. It just felt like a very rushed wrap-up.

Aside from the book not quite living up to my expectations, there was a good deal of merit here. The author has lived in Cuba for extended periods of time since 2003 and so has built long-term relationships with the families she writes about and is able to follow their lives through all the political changes. While she clearly cares about the country and its people, she is still able to write honestly about both the policies of the government and the motivations and honesty of the people.

There were a couple of mechanical issues that really hampered my enjoyment of the book. Chief among them is the number of misplaced modifiers that occur. For instance: “…a photo of a man with a guitar named Juan Manuel, signed to China la más Bella, hung on the wall…” Is the man or the guitar named Juan Manuel? These happened very frequently and drove me nuts. The second issue I had was the prose itself. The author is so obviously trying for lyrical phrasing, but unfortunately the reader is often left with simple ideas that are twisted into such dense prose that it takes rereading several times for comprehension. In the end I decided that Julia Cooke is just not a writer whose style I enjoy. 


For someone who is very interested in Cuba and likes books that trace everyday lives of citizens through many years, I think you would gain something from reading this book. For others, I would weigh the issues I mention here to decide where your interests lie.

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