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Hotel Cuba

A Novel

by Aaron Hamburger

Hotel Cuba by Aaron Hamburger X
Hotel Cuba by Aaron Hamburger
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There are currently 23 member reviews
for Hotel Cuba
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  • Reid B. (Seattle, WA)
    A beautiful homage
    What a delightful surprise this book is! It is not surprising that this author might write a truly masterful novel, but considering the subject matter and the fact that the main character is not only a woman, but a woman emigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States via Cuba in the time between the World Wars, one might expect that Hamburger might have struggled to convey the emotions and travails of Pearl, his primary character.

    But, as the acknowledgements make clear, this is a labor of love, as Pearl is modeled after his grandmother. And he has obviously done his homework, discovering what life in the Old Country would have been like, including the brutal pogroms against Jews. He has imagined with great care her journey from there to the United States via Cuba, which he has lovingly portrayed in all its beauty and brutality.

    Pearl and her sister Frieda set sail on the S.S. Hudson in search of a new life. They are leaving behind the poverty and violence of a region that is being contested between Russians and Poles. Stuck in the middle between them are the Jews, reviled and brutalized by whomever is in power. Their older sister is already established in New York, but immigration laws being what they are, the girls must first land in Cuba, where they hope to find a way to join her.

    Though this is a master work all the way through, Hamburger's greatest accomplishment is Pearl herself. Though there are several expertly drawn characters here, Pearl is by far the most fascinating. Yes, she is a simple village girl from a tiny, poor shtetl, neither well-educated nor sophisticated, but she is intelligent, capable and not easily intimidated as she makes her way in these new worlds.

    One minor criticism: considering the loving care he lavished on the development of Pearl's character throughout the early chapters, when she reaches New York it seems to me that she changes with an unseemly rapidity from a confused peasant woman in an enormous city to a skilled sophisticate. Not that I think the Pearl who left Cuba could not have become the Pearl he portrays, but it feels forced for that transition to have happened so quickly.

    But this last is simply a minor criticism of a work that is such a work of art and clearly a work of great love. This is why we read, to find ourselves in the company of such characters and the skilled prose that brings them so vividly to life.
  • Lynn D. (Kingston, NY)
    European immigrants in Cuba
    This is not the familiar story of immigrants arriving through Ellis Island to start their new lives. This is the unfamiliar story of displaced persons being redirected to Cuba and struggling to get into the U.S. from there, in the 1920s. Jewish sisters Pearl and Frieda flee their home in occupied Poland, hoping to reunite in NY with another sister. We see right away that Pearl and Frieda are very different. The characters are well developed, including their strengths and fears and hopes. Pearl tries to hold on to her home values while navigating life in Cuba. She meets many colorful characters along the way who help her open up to her changing world. This would be a great book club choice!
  • Jan S. (Conway, AR)
    A 1922 immigrant story of two determined sisters
    Hotel Cuba paints a colorful picture of two sisters escaping Poland/Russia as the First World War tears up their homeland. In their perilous ocean journey, Pearl and Frieda cling to the hope of America, where an older sister lives. But with so many immigrants arriving, they were turned away for a year. That year in tropical Havana gave them time to learn and grow as young women.

    The vibrant descriptions of their life around the city kept me turning pages to learn more about how they would prevail, each in their own way. The people they met and the places they went helped them learn both English and Spanish, and a large Yiddish community in Havana gave them joyous moments with meals and conversations that kept them connected to their Russian roots.

    After separate struggles to reach America, first Frieda and then Pearl reach New York City. At this point, for me, the story seems to lose the imagery as it moves toward the final wrap. It's a beautiful story based on the author's grandparents' experiences. I just wish it had ended with the same descriptive prose I found at the start.
  • Amy A. (Buffalo, NY)
    Very Enjoyable Read!
    Hotel Cuba touched upon many topics that are close to my heart.
    The diaspora of Jewish Lithuanians to Cuba is a very interesting historical subtext. The Immigration Act of 1924 prevented Jews from entering the US, thus some Jews at that time landed in Cuba. Even during the Holocaust, the US was turning Jewish immigrants away. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 changed most of that.
    Being Jewish and married to a Cuban, I also felt the author did a great job of describing historical Cuba, NYC and the garment sweat shops as well as Detroit.
  • Carolyn B. (Aptos, CA)
    Hotel Cuba
    I love historical fiction and this novel did not disappoint. The writing seemed a bit awkward at first, but I was soon swept along with the two sisters on their journey away from Poland in 1922. There is plenty of suspense to keep one turning pages as Pearl faces one challenge after another and gradually gains the confidence she needs.
    The author makes great use of exposing us to Jewish culture, Cuban culture, gay culture and 1920's American culture.
    The plight of immigrants is never easy and this novel reminds us to feel compassion for all of those who must escape their homeland.
  • nitsey
    wanting to read from 1st page on
    I really enjoyed reading Hotel Cuba. what impressed me the most was first the authors descriptions and then Pearl's impressions followed by her after thoughts. Unfortunately she played the victim in situations and why she couldn't put her past behind her. She accepted the handouts given to her yet guilty taking them. Frieda cut her ties and found a new life.....I have 50 pages more to go and am still wondering if Pearl found the life she was so eager to have upon coming to America.
  • Laura D. (Newmarket, NH)
    Unique Immigration Story
    The strength of this book is the story itself. It was wonderful to experience Pearl's journey with her, but without the physical hardships that she endured. Cuba as a location on an immigrant's journey to the United States is one that I had not previously encountered in my reading. The difference in the three sisters' experiences added depth and points of comparison to Pearl's journey. I do wish that Pearl's inner thoughts had been conveyed in a more in-depth and revealing way. However, the book was set in a time when a woman like Pearl would not have had the education and experiences that modern readers do, so the simplicity of her thoughts may be in keeping with the time period of the story.

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