cover image Goodbye, My Havana: The Life and Times of a Gringa in Revolutionary Cuba

Goodbye, My Havana: The Life and Times of a Gringa in Revolutionary Cuba

Anna Veltfort. Redwood, $24 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-5036-1049-1

Veltfort was 16 years old in 1962 when her communist parents moved her family from the San Francisco Bay Area to Havana; her insightful memoir relates anecdotes from those heady days when both she and Cuba changed rapidly. The contrasts of her teenage life are stark: the gringa learns how to do the twist and sing in Spanish, and falls in love against a backdrop of forced agricultural work. She recalls the Cuban Missile Crisis as, bizarrely, a moment of unity: “For us on the ground in Havana, the atmosphere was amazingly upbeat. In the states, our friends had nightmares about nuclear annihilation; here everyone was busy shouting ‘Patria o Muerte!’ ” But it’s the moment when she first holds hands with another girl that she feels true exhilaration and begins her sexual awakening. Castro’s homophobic laws create a personal crisis that looms above all else: Veltfort and her girlfriend love each other despite warnings that “counter-revolutionaries” should be “boiled like worms.” Amid oppression, the teens build resilience: they slip away to the beach, throw clandestine dance parties, and even drink with Allen Ginsberg (he passes them Bob Dylan and Joan Baez records). Her busy art is framed and contextualized with period photo references and re-drawn news clips. Among often partisan portrayals of Cuba, Veltfort’s memoir of a rare life’s triumphs and tragedies stands out for its nuanced portrayal. [em](Sept.) [/em]