Es Cuba: Life and Love on an Illegal Island

Lea Aschkenas, Author
Lea Aschkenas, Author . Seal $15.95 (342p) ISBN 978-1-58005-179-8
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Love is the operative word in journalist Aschkenas's intimate, detailed memoir of 10 months spent exploring life in Cuba—love for a young Cuban man whose devotion largely defines her journey. In February 2000, shortly after the Elián Gonzalez custody battle became the cause célèbre for nationalists, Aschkenas goes to Cuba for a language program with an American social justice organization. As a tourist, she is housed in an exclusive hotel in a wealthy Havana neighborhood, removed from the dirt-poor, hand-to-mouth struggling Cubans, whose average monthly salary is $12. She soon meets Alfredo, a black-skinned stage technician who teaches her to eschew "la vida plastica" in order to learn about the "real Cuba" of argot, bribery (a dollar gets her practically anything she needs), machismo, El Bombo (the visa lottery that allows Cubans to immigrate to the U.S.) and racism. Aschkenas gradually moves to a shared house in Centro Habana (inner-city Havana) run by several generations of Cuban women who enlighten her on feminist revolutionary history. Throughout, she and Alfredo learn to readjust their assumed ideas of nationality and politics as Aschkenas continually confronts the lesson "of how little in Cuba is as it appears on the surface." (Jan.)

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