Summary and book reviews of Havana by Mark Kurlansky

Havana

A Subtropical Delirium

by Mark Kurlansky

Havana by Mark Kurlansky X
Havana by Mark Kurlansky
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2017, 272 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2018, 272 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Barbara Bamberger Scott
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About this Book

Book Summary

A city of tropical heat, sweat, ramshackle beauty, and its very own cadence--a city that always surprises--Havana is brought to pulsing life by New York Times bestselling author Mark Kurlansky.

Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider's view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky's own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city's singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.

Like all great cities, Havana has a rich history that informs the vibrant place it is today--from the native Taino to Columbus's landing, from Cuba's status as a U.S. protectorate to Batista's dictatorship and Castro's revolution, from Soviet presence to the welcoming of capitalist tourism. Havana is a place of extremes: a beautifully restored colonial city whose cobblestone streets pass through areas that have not been painted or repaired since long before the revolution.

Kurlansky shows Havana through the eyes of Cuban writers, such as Alejo Carpentier and José Martí, and foreigners, including Graham Greene and Hemingway. He introduces us to Cuban baseball and its highly opinionated fans; the city's music scene, alive with the rhythm of Son; its culinary legacy. Through Mark Kurlansky's multilayered and electrifying portrait, the long-elusive city of Havana comes stirringly to life.

ONE
Change


Todo el mundo tiene una ciudad distinta en la cabeza.
Everybody has a different city in his head.

— Edmundo Desnoes on Havana,
in Inconsolable Memories, 1965



There is a great deal of disagreement about Havana, partly because in Havana disagreeing is a way of life. But most everyone agrees that it is like no other city on earth. How did Havana become so different (though not as different as Columbus thought when he reported that there was a place called Avan, where "the inhabitants are born with tails")?

Historians point to one uprising or another revolt that shaped the city but in truth it is change itself that has given Havana its character. It has had a history of upheaval and change like no other place. Change is one of the fundamental conditions here.

To start with, Havana was founded three times in three different places.

After Christopher Columbus in 1492 declared the island of Cuba "the most beautiful that eyes have ever seen," he sent an emissary to talk to...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Kurlansky skillfully combines these disparate aspects, examining them in the hindsight of history and in the light of the current regime, skirting speculation about the changes that must be waiting in the wings since the death of Fidel late last year. He gives us Havana as a city to love, a city to invest our best hopes in as changes on the diplomatic front are causing a warming trend in our relations with our southeastern island neighbor...continued

Full Review (618 words).

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(Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott).

Media Reviews

The Washington Post
Kurlansky approaches Havana like an Impressionist painter, building the image of this metropolis of 2 million inhabitants with subtle brushstrokes.

New York Journal of Books
We are in good hands to explore this diabolically alluring city . . . his is an insider's view of the ramshackle charm and special cadence of Havana, its tattered and elegant surprises and pulsating fun-loving life.

Literary Review (UK)
Narrative history is his forte . . . His vignettes of the figures who moulded Havana are excellent. The story unfurls through grisly post-independence dictatorships and ends, inevitably, with Castro. Kurlansky is even-handed

Publishers Weekly
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.

Kirkus Reviews
An affectionate, richly detailed, brief biography of a unique city.

Booklist
Starred Review. This little gem of a book by the prolific Kurlansky is a revelation... At a most auspicious moment in the history of Cuba and Havana, Kurlansky, who has spent much time in the country as a journalist, writes an eloquent love letter to one of the world's great cities.

Library Journal
Starred Review. This extremely readable book is not preachy, not dogmatic, not shrill. As in life, there is a mixture of both good and evil, and Kurlansky, a frequent Cuba correspondent, covers it well.

Reader Reviews

CarolP

A thorough overview for travelers
"Havana" is a nicely written introduction to this great city and its history and current culture. I have traveled there twice and regret this book was not available during my preparatory reading. A very accurate description of the area, ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

José Martí - Havana's Poet Revolutionary

Mark Kurlansky's Havana begins with this poetic snippet:

El corazón es un loco
Que no sabe de un color.

(The heart is a fool
that knows no color.)

The composer is the highly regarded José Martí, a significant figure in the pantheon of Latino writers, and more especially, in the small but distinguished group of Cuban revolutionaries. Born in Havana in 1853, Martí was a child prodigy whose career as a poet began in his teens. He was published before he turned 16. Even in his teens, his writing expressed his passionate belief that Cuba needed to gain independence and break from Spain, earning him a year in prison followed by exile in Spain.

José Martí By 1875, with a law degree to his credit, Martí was able start ...

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