My older niece was required to read Carlos Eire's book, 'Waiting for Snow in Havana,' and, since I enjoy helping her with her assignments, I read it too. I assure you that it is not a book that I would otherwise have read. Several things struck me about it. First, it is not terribly well written, yet it won the National Book Award. This only reinforces the confusion in my mind about how such prestigious prizes are allocated. There are paragraphs in this book that would not pass muster in Professor Eire's classes at Yale, and yet which somehow made their way past not only his own editing but that of his publisher.
Beyond that, it is undeniably an affecting account of a little boy's experience growing up during the waning days of the corrupt Batista regime and the opening years of the Castro nightmare. Eire confirms my worst impressions of communism in Cuba, calling it the equivalent of Dante's ninth circle of hell. (I gloss over the fact that Eire observed in an interview that the New York Times refused to review the book, presumably on the grounds that he dared to criticize the Castro regime - that craven, left-wing rag no doubt felt more comfortable with the brutalities of the communist dictator than it did with the reminiscences of the Yale Religious Studies chairman.) But the book leaves me with the simple question: What is wrong with the Cuban people?
Not only did they not turn on Castro when he revealed himself to be a Marxist oligarch and began exterminating his enemies real and imagined, not only did they fail to support the Bay of Pigs invasion which might have overthrown him, not only did they not repudiate him when he attempted to import Soviet nuclear missiles, not only have they endured fifty years of his one-man rule and the handing over of their country to his brother as if Cuba were the Castro family's personal fiefdom - now they witness him, a toothless lion ranting from his deathbed and clinging by bloody fingernails to power, and still they do nothing to reclaim their homeland.
What should they do? What any self-respecting, nationalistic race of proud, freedom-loving people would do: They should assemble a flotilla of boats, anything that is seaworthy, and storm the island in their tens of thousands, defy the repressive security forces, dare them to kill them all, march on the dictators' palace, arrest Fidel and Raoul and their cronies, drag them before tribunals and string them up. Other peoples have done as much throughout history and been martyred or feted for doing so - why not the Cuban people?
I have spent a good deal of time over the decades reading about Cuban history, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the CIA's clownish attempts to do away with Castro (because I believe these things are directly related to the death of President Kennedy), and I have come away with the impression that the Cuban people are, by and large, rather like a gaggle of old women who prefer to cackle and moan and commiserate about their fate than take it into their own hands. I have the impression that they pride themselves on being fortune's fools, the victims of forces beyond their control. And they attempt to compensate for the fact by arguing endlessly about history and politics and all that they have lost (as Eire does endlessly), rather than organizing themselves in an effort to retrieve the loss, to rectify history, and to free their nation at last from those who, though fanatics, were at least possessed of sufficient fearlessness to impose their ill will upon them.