Sultry dancers, daiquiris, and the mambo. Cuban, or American? Perhaps both? In “The Havana Habit,” Columbia professor Gustavo Perez Firmat explains the numerous ways in which America has sucked up Cuban culture, creating an imagined vision of this exotic island. He argues that “No other Latin American nation has left as pervasive an imprint on this country’s cultural landscape as that long island in the Caribbean.”
If you care about Cuban-American relations, read this book! I enjoyed it immensely, and owe a big gracias to my dear friend Laura for giving it to me as a 21st-birthday gift.Then there’s “Havana Bay” by Martin Cruz Smith that I also finished reading recently. But this one’s fiction. It stars Arkady Ryenko, our hero from “Gorky Park,” traipsing around Havana during its “Special Period” just following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Arkady’s friend and one-time almost-murderer has been found dead floating in the bay. The detective comes to investigate and discovers more than he bargained for, including a plot to murder Fidel Castro. I appreciated Cruz’s meticulous eye for detail and historical accuracy.
Incidentally, an exhibit of Cuban photography has just opened at the Getty Museum that chronicles life on the island from the 1930s to the 2000s.
The LA Times noted that the works showcase “Cuba’s many contradictions — physical beauty and stark impoverishment, political ideals and Cold War debacles, tragic failure and boundless potential…”
The Getty will host several events related to the exhibit. One panel discussion is titled, “How Do Americans Imagine Cuba?” After reading Firmat’s book, I am curious to hear more opinions. The museum will also show “Soy Cuba,” a film made in 1964 with Soviet support. It’s a visual gem that’s fascinating for its political leanings and depiction of the downtrodden but resolute people of Cuba. (If you’ve visited my apartment, you’ve seen the colorful “Soy Cuba” poster hanging in the front hall. I bought it in Boston in 2006, completely unaware of the film’s significance.)
Meanwhile, the LA Film Festival is coming up and will feature several new Cuban movies. Still, you can’t go wrong with a classic. Check out the “Soy Cuba” trailer below.