David Rieff has become our most dazzling chronicler of change. In Going to Miami and Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World, he took us into the streets of the new American city, where waves of recent immigrants are transforming the terrain and creating new patterns of urban life. Rieff's book on Los Angeles, Joan Didion said, was "a disturbing and brilliant examination of the America we have not faced." Rieff's portrait of South Florida's Cubans, torn between the imagined Eden of their home and their success in...
David Rieff has become our most dazzling chronicler of change. In Going to Miami and Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World, he took us into the streets of the new American city, where waves of recent immigrants are transforming the terrain and creating new patterns of urban life. Rieff's book on Los Angeles, Joan Didion said, was "a disturbing and brilliant examination of the America we have not faced." Rieff's portrait of South Florida's Cubans, torn between the imagined Eden of their home and their success in America, captures their bittersweet experience. He unmasks their fractured, refracted identities: exiled since Castro's rise in 1959 in a foreign city less than two hundred miles from their home, separated from the comforts of the familiar, from homes remembered and imagined, but unable to resist America's still-overwhelming attraction, they have transformed Miami from a tourist town to the paradigm of the twenty-first-century American metropolis. Through the experiences of some unforgettable people; through street scenes, cafes, and clubs; through a trip with two Miami Cubans visiting Havana for the first time; Rieff has assembled a remarkable portrait of a people and place and a haunting psychological profile of our century's most emblematic - and influential - figure: the exile.
In this sensitive and engrossing discourse, Rieff ( Going to Miami ) describes the 33-year-long exile in Miami which many Cubans are beginning to recognize may actually be immigration. For these Cubans, Havana is still the center of the world, but their nostalgia is for the spiritual capital of la Cuba de ayer , that sophisticated, chic, intellectual, artistic and, most importantly, pre-Castro city they now mythologize and try to reconstitute in the streets of Miami. Though cleaving fiercely to their Cuban origins and constantly dreaming of return, many have become more American than they realize, and there is now a second generation whose native home is Miami, observes the author. Rieff accompanied one couple on a brief visit to Havana, and he describes their surprise on finding that they had become Americans after all. ``We Cubans have become a different people in America,'' says the wife, ``and what I learned during our trip to Cuba is that they have become different down there too . . . the truth is that we are never going back.'' While his subject is the Cubans in Miami, Rieff uses the differences between their migration and that of other immigrants--particularly the Jewish diaspora--to give striking insights into the common pain of all exiles. (Aug.)
Updating Thomas D. Boswell and James R. Curtis's The Cuban-American Experience ( LJ 6/1/84), journalist Rieff ( Los Angeles: Capital of the Third World , S. & S., 1991) assesses the present social processes in Cuban American Miami. Past immigrants had come to the United States to stay, but Rieff shows that the motto of Miami's Cubans was ``Next year in Havana.'' More economic than political refugees (Castro's ``New Man'' demanded sacrifice from the more successful), their success here depended on their doing what they did best--making money. As Rieff demonstrates, they also saw to it that we heard only their side, not about the excesses of Batista. Although most Cuban immigrants are or will become U.S. citizens, their sympathies lie elsewhere, and one is left to wonder if the balkanization of America by such groups is good. A thorough investigation for current events collections.-- Louise Leonard, Univ. of Florida Libs., Gainesville
Rieff portrays several Cuban exiles to establish--in general--that the original exiles long for home passionately regardless of how prosperous they have become, and many of their sons and daughters have similar feelings. Unlike Haitian immigrants, Cubans didn't come to Miami thinking life would be better; they were Cuba's bourgeoisie, and felt "torn up from their roots." Nonetheless, many who had privileged childhoods in Cuba now prefer Miami, and the notion of a community of exiles is fading to one of a community of immigrants. The grandchildren of the original exiles are actually uncomfortable with their Cuban heritage, which becomes clear with Rieff's account of accompanying the Raul Rodriguez family on a visit to Havana. For the family's young son, the trip is pure misery, and he longs only to be "home." Rieff is a sure stylist, and meditates on the notion of exile as a condition of life and a state of mind throughout the twentieth century. But mostly his is a portrait of one particularly vibrant community of the U.S. on the eve, it would seem, of great change, because of the limited days remaining to the Castro regime.
David Rieff is a contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine. He is the author of seven previous books, including the acclaimed At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention; A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis; and Slaughterhouse: Bosnia and the Failure of the West. He lives in New York City.