The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba

Julia Cooke. Seal (PGW, dist.), $17 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-58005-531-4
As journalist Cooke writes in her nonfiction debut, a multilayered collection of vignettes about her time in Cuba: “Havana reveals itself in snippets that build, one atop another, in a constant waterfall of places and scenes.” Bypassing many of the clichéd Cuban experiences, Cooke focuses on the day-to-day lives of Cuba’s young people—a population that, in recent years, has been leaving the country in droves. She quickly discovers that blackouts and service interruptions are as common as raucous street parties, that a box of Canadian corn flakes sells for $12, and that it’s possible to score five mojitos for a dollar, all while learning about the country’s dramatic history. It’s not all gloom and doom: Cuba now has a vibrant gay community, and punk rockers gleefully mix their metaphors. Cooke tries admirably to cover a subject that only seems to expand as she digs deeper, examining Santería, and the ever-present specter of government surveillance and Communism. Unfortunately, the more she digs, the more Cooke finds herself trying to nail down mercury as she shifts from subject to subject, never reaching a definitive conclusion or analysis. As a travelogue, the book is a fine example of the author’s experiences. As an analysis of an incredibly complex and ever-changing culture, it falls short. Agent: Diana Finch, Diana Finch Literary Agency. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/17/2014
Release date: 04/01/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
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