The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics

By Safa, Helen | Cuban Studies, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics


Safa, Helen, Cuban Studies


Aviva Chomsky, Barry Carr, and Pamela Maria Smorkaloff, eds. The Cuba Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2003. 723 pp.

Aviva Chomsky and her colleagues have done cubanologos a great service in assembling this impressive volume. It contains about one hundred selections divided into eight separate sections, ranging from Indigenous Society and Conquest to the Special Period and the Future of the Revolution. The book was largely complete when Cuba entered the Special Period in the early 1990s, forcing a delay in publication to encompass this important change. In terms of its historical and interdisciplinary scope, this reader follows the format of other Latin America readers put out by Duke University Press, most of which have also been edited by historians. Both Aviva Chomsky and Barry Carr are Latin American historians, while Pamela Smorkaloff is a Cuban American specializing in Cuban literature.

Some might disagree with the selection of readings, daunting in their number. Most of the contributors will be familiar to those who have worked on Cuba, including José Martí, Nicolas Guillén, Fernando Ortiz, Roberto Fernández Retamar, Miguel Barnet, Nancy Morejon, Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Alejo Carpentier and Oscar Zanetti, all internationally recognized Cuban scholars. Others might have been included, especially in the contemporary social sciences. Their absence is perhaps due to the editors' conscious effort to not focus on the Cuban Revolution, but on five hundred years of Cuban history and society. Half of the book is devoted to the prerevolutionary period. But one wonders if it may also be due to budget constraints on translation and other costs, which would be a shame, since one purpose of such readers is to make foreign language materials accessible to a wider audience. Many of the translations were done by Aviva Chomsky herself, for which she is to be congratulated.

The readings are not limited to scholarly and literary articles, but include poems, songs (by Silvio Rodriguez and others), primary-source documents, and first-hand journalistic accounts published in the New Yorker, the New York Times, Bohemia, etc. Some of the more interesting selections are political documents by U.S. officials responding to the 1933 and the 1959 revolutions, the missile crisis, and a CIA report on assassination plots against Fidel Castro, which vividly reflect the arrogance of U.S. policy makers toward poorer, Third World countries. I am pleased that the editors chose to include material on the Cuban exile community, such as the hilarious piece by Achy Obejas exploring the Cuban-American generational differences, which will be familiar to many immigrants.

The editors raise the issue of "balance" in their introduction, since so much analysis of Cuba is biased in favor of or against the revolution. The editors joint commitment to social justice makes them partial to the struggles of the Cuban people for a more egalitarian society, free of poverty and neocolonialism, while reserving criticism for some of the Castro government's top-down and sometimes repressive measures. This is not a book that will please older, more conservative Cuban exiles in Miami and elsewhere. …

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