Excerpt from The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Sugar King of Havana

The Rise and Fall of Julio Lobo, Cuba's Last Tycoon

by John Paul Rathbone

The Sugar King of Havana
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2011, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Even as a schoolboy growing up in London, I knew that prerevolutionary Cuba with its perfumed waters had indisputable failings. Everyone in 1970s England told me so; the message seemed to be in the very air I breathed. The red double-decker bus that I took to school each day passed a fashionable clothes shop on Kensington High Street called Red or Dead, which later became Che Guevara, and when that shop finally closed down a restaurant opened opposite, called Bar Cuba. Not only was that distant island ruled by one of the world's longest-serving heads of state - whose accomplishments in health and education I was perforce quick to recognize - everybody seemed to revere him too. It was embarrassing.

Even as a British schoolboy wearing shorts, a cap, and scuffed black shoes, I wondered if Cuba's failings had been so exceptional as to have nurtured a revolution that had once brought the world to the brink of nuclear war and had dispersed my mother's family and so many others around the world. It was so at odds with the stories that my mother and her family told me, even though I recognized them as tales of privileged, upper-class Cuban life.

I held the question inside me for many years, teasing away at its contradictions in only a tangential way. After college, I left England and worked as a journalist and economist in Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. I was searching, of course, for echoes of my mother's family's past: the music, some of the food, the fast almost slurred Spanish, the mixture of social casualness and Latin formality, the beauty of the mornings before the heat burnt away their color, and the unforgettable smell of guavas rotting in the sun that always draws one back to the Caribbean, as Gabriel García Márquez once put it. Yet while I spent a decade living around the Spanish Caribbean, I never visited Cuba. One reason I stayed away from the island, I told myself, was to inoculate myself against tropical lyricism.

When I eventually traveled to Cuba, I wanted to be able to see through its vehement sunsets, palm trees and romantic colonial past, in the same way that I wanted to see beyond the glamorous life captured in my mother's photographs. More important, I avoided Cuba because I feared that I wouldn't recognize the island from her stories. Worse, I feared that it wouldn't recognize me.

Finally, I began to make short trips. For a while, in the 1990s, I even ran a newsletter out of a London basement that described the travails of the Cuban economy and what it meant for the island's future. It was a confusing time. The collapse of the Soviet Union had ended Moscow's thirty-year patronage of Fidel Castro, and many exiles hoped that his revolution would finally end too. In Miami, expectations swelled of an eventual return and, among the older generations, maybe even something of those glorious prerevolutionary days as well. In Havana, Castro deftly turned those expectations in on themselves. Even as the Cuban ship of state seemed to be sinking beneath him, he conjured up a mythic image of prerevolutionary Cuba, only it was an abject vision rather than golden.

There can be no going back, he exhorted. ¡Socialismo o muerte! I objected to Fidel; I objected also to the feverish hatred of many exiles' anti-Castroism. From England, the vehemence of their passions, their bitterness and rage, sometimes had the feeling of a flat earth society. Publishing the newsletter, I became briefly what others called an expert. I gave talks in Europe and the United States, at universities and in government departments. Yet the more expert I became, the less truth I recognized in much of what I read or heard. Even the best commentary from the island was driven by a government-sponsored sleuthing that aimed to uncover a malignant force - usually capitalism. Yet neither did I recognize a rounded picture in the sugar-coated memories told to me in Miami. In time I came to see that exile imposed a kind of selective censorship, a critical numbing that might otherwise tarnish glorious memories, which can be all that is left when everything else is taken away.

Excerpted from The Sugar King of Havana by John Paul Rathbone. Reprinted by arrangement with The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) John Paul Rathbone, 2010.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One-Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Harmony
    Harmony
    by Carolyn Parkhurst
    In previous novels such as The Dogs of Babel and Lost and Found, Carolyn Parkhurst has shown herself...
  • Book Jacket: Commonwealth
    Commonwealth
    by Ann Patchett
    Opening Ann Patchett's novel Commonwealth about two semi-functional mid-late 20th Century ...
  • Book Jacket: A Gentleman in Moscow
    A Gentleman in Moscow
    by Amor Towles
    It is June 21, 1922, and 33-year-old Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov is convicted of being a class ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Tea Planter's Wife
    by Dinah Jefferies

    An utterly engrossing, compulsive page-turner set in 1920s Ceylon.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Darling Days
    by iO Tillett Wright

    A devastatingly powerful memoir of one young woman's extraordinary coming of age.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Sweet Caress
by William Boyd

William Boyd's Sweet Caress captures an entire lifetime unforgettably within its pages. It captivates.

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Blood at the Root

Blood at the Root

"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

D C Y C Before T A H

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.