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Posted September 11, 2009
I don't read a lot of memoirs. Not that I don't enjoy that branch of literature, but I read more novels, history, and historical fiction. After following threads on the Amazon community forums, however, "Adios, Havana" piqued my interest, and since I had recently read "Havana Nocturne," it was a good follow-up book.
Mr. Rodriguez has written a marvelous memoir of his life in Cuba before Castro took over in 1959, his life in Cuba under Castro, and his subsequent emigration to the United States. His writing style is simple and straightforward with no wasted words, almost like he's speaking out loud to the reader. The author's description of pre-revolution Cuba is almost poetic in his love of the land and its people, as well as the surrounding sea.
The author is only a few years older than me, so I remember the events he recounts, such as the revolution, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban missile crisis. Of course I experienced them from the safety of Atlanta, Georgia, in a free country. Some of the personal incidents Mr. Rodriquez describes after Castro took over are heartbreaking and sickening, to see how Cuba was changed under communism. In one chapter, the local school children were forced to pray to God for ice cream, which didn't come. Next they were forced to pray to Castro for ice cream, and the ice cream magically appeared. The communist training wasn't very subtle. And it was brutal, as exemplified by the treatment of one of the author's cousins, who committed the crime of depositing a few pieces of jewelry with friends in Canada. Her punishment? Life in a filthy political prison, left to die slowly of breast cancer without treatment or medication.
The memoir has its touching moments though, especially of the author's courtship of his future bride Margarita. And ultimately the author and Margarita are allowed to leave Cuba and move to the United States. After struggling to make a living in Miami, they move to Colorado, where a church and some very caring people adopt them and help them start their new life. Over the next few years, the Rodriguezes have children and adapt to life in the US, with Mr. Rodriguez achieving great success in a business he started.
"Adios, Havana" is one of the best memoirs that I've read, and I highly recommend it for anyone. I especially recommend it to anyone who has the mistaken idea that Castro and his communist cronies have somehow been good for Cuba and its people the last fifty years. Don't ask me - ask someone who lived under his tyranny, like Mr. Rodriguez.
At the end of the book, Mr. Rodriguez answers a question that I wanted to ask: Have you or your children visited Cuba since becoming US citizens? His reply: No, never again until the bastard is gone.