cover image CUBA ON THE VERGE: An Island in Transition

CUBA ON THE VERGE: An Island in Transition

, , intro. by William Kennedy, epilogue by Arthur Miller. . Bulfinch, $50 (200pp) ISBN 978-0-8212-2802-9

As Kennedy explains, this collection of essays and photographs by Cubans, Cubans in exile and interested Americans isn't so much about the politics of Cuba as "the consequence of politics to Cuba." While its structure is simple enough—short essays on themes like spirituality, the new middle class and rural life coupled with sets of photos, introduced by artists' statements—its texture is delightfully varied and idiosyncratic. In playwright Abelardo Estorino's comical "I Smoke Marlboros," a well-meaning gringo, a revolutionary servant and her formerly upper-class employer cross wits. The entry on Cuban music is a pastiche of interviews with stars Chucho Valdés and El Tosco, who both segue seamlessly into politics and history as they discuss music. There are straightforward autobiographical reflections, like Achy Obejas's thoughts on returning to Cuba and being mistaken for an American, and more philosophical meditations, such as Eduardo Rodríguez's essay on being a "casual stroller" through Old Havana's restorations and ruins. The photos following each entry are related thematically, but could stand alone as visual essays. Some, like Kattia García Fayat's "Women in the New Cuba," speak a sensual language, where the subjects' gestures and postures communicate volumes; others, like Manuel Piña's offerings, unpeel time in the falling paint from walls and the frozen dignity of a once elegant parlor. The kaleidoscope of images—Virginia Beahan's breathtakingly empty landscapes, Sylvia Plachy's vibrant urban scenes, Abelardo Morell's haunting camera obscura projections of cityscapes on interiors—will open readers' eyes to a country not so much "third world" as "other world." (May 20)