cover image Havana: A Subtropical Delirium

Havana: A Subtropical Delirium

Mark Kurlansky. Bloomsbury, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-63286-391-1

Warmly rendered and rich with the insights of an observer intimate with his subject, this paean to the city of Havana is as engaging as it is timely. The chapters read like a series of colorful picture postcards, each one a touchstone of Havana’s history and Cuban culture. One addressing the city’s intense tropical heat leads to reflections on bloody events that punctuate Havana’s “tragic and impassioned history,” because “in Havana every splash of light has its dark spot.” References to Cecilia Valdés (1882), the landmark novel of exiled Cuban novelist Cirilo Villaverde, invoke discussion of the island’s Afro-Cuban culture and its slave trade, which was not abolished until 1886. Descriptions of the city’s postrevolution character naturally invite comparisons to prerevolutionary Havana and its near-overdevelopment with luxury hotels promoted by mobster Meyer Lansky and other organized crime syndicates. Kurlansky (Paper) has a tour guide’s eye for Havana’s most notable aspects, and he anchors his colorful observations with historical details gleaned from more than three decades of familiarity with the place and its people, beginning in 1976 as a correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. This vivid travelogue may well persuade his readers that “Havana, for all its smells, sweat, crumbling walls, isolation, and difficult history, is the most romantic city in the world.” Agent: Charlotte Sheedy, Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. (Mar.)