Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy

Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy

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by Carlos Eire
     
 

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In his 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire narrated his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life inSee more details below

Overview

In his 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire narrated his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life in Miami in 1962. It would be years before he would see his mother again. He would never again see his beloved father.

Learning to Die in Miami opens as the plane lands and Carlos faces, with trepidation and excitement, his new life. He quickly realizes that in order for his new American self to emerge, his Cuban self must "die." And so, with great enterprise and purpose, he begins his journey.

We follow Carlos as he adjusts to life in his new home. Faced with learning English, attending American schools, and an uncertain future, young Carlos confronts the age-old immigrant’s plight: being surrounded by American bounty, but not able to partake right away. The abundance America has to offer excites him and, regardless of how grim his living situation becomes, he eagerly forges ahead with his own personal assimilation program, shedding the vestiges of his old life almost immediately, even changing his name to Charles. Cuba becomes a remote and vague idea in the back of his mind, something he used to know well, but now it "had ceased to be part of the world."

But as Carlos comes to grips with his strange surroundings, he must also struggle with everyday issues of growing up. His constant movement between foster homes and the eventual realization that his parents are far away in Cuba bring on an acute awareness that his life has irrevocably changed. Flashing back and forth between past and future, we watch as Carlos balances the divide between his past and present homes and finds his way in this strange new world, one that seems to hold the exhilarating promise of infinite possibilities and one that he will eventually claim as his own.

An exorcism and an ode, Learning to Die in Miami is a celebration of renewal—of those times when we’re certain we have died and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.

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Editorial Reviews

Ligaya Mishan
In Learning to Die in Miami, [Eire] once more channels the voice of his younger self—chatty, cocky, hyperbolic, ardent—without imposing an adult's guile or sentimentality…Eire is a tremendously likable narrator, honest about the limitations of memory, always wearing his heart on his sleeve…those who remember the exuberant kid from Waiting for Snow in Havana—launching a lizard into outer space on the back of a firecracker, chasing after beautiful blue clouds of DDT—will be moved by the man he becomes.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
A stranger in a strange land, Eire (Waiting for Snow in Havana), one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba in Operation Peter Pan in 1962, describes the classic American immigrant experience in Miami, Fla., with a mix of insightful observation, humor, and heartfelt emotion. With his older brother, Tony, the 11-year-old boy compares the Yankee environment, which he describes as "so advanced and so wealthy," to the oppressive "Castrolandia and its fascination with Soviet backwardness." Despite the absence of his biological parents and enduring uncaring foster homes, Eire conquers the English language, survives crass holiday consumerism, and excels at academia and the American dream. Easily one of the more impressive memoirs on the thorny issue of immigration, this book provides a winning formula for immigrants "finding themselves at the bottom of the heap and knowing that they will climb their way back to the top, no matter what." (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"Eire...describes the classic American immigrant experience...with a mix of insightful observation, humor, and heartfelt emotion." —Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Library Journal
Eire (T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History & Religious Studies, Yale) takes readers on his personal journey, beginning in 1962 when he and his brother arrived in Florida as part of Operation Peter Pan—an evacuation of 14,000 Cuban children whose parents arranged for their relocation to the United States, away from Castro. Eire's prose engages us throughout as we learn of the challenges he faced as he assimilated to his new world. He often carries us back to Cuba, where his parents remained. He longed for his family traditions, even as the United States became his "real world"—a world lit up with color. The reader becomes a part of Eire's assimilation journey, which although at times provides humor, was more often simply difficult. Eire interlaces Spanish appropriately, thus illustrating how he still thinks in one language but speaks another. VERDICT Eire shows how strong and deep are the personal impacts of emigration, yet he met his challenges head-on and succeeded. Readers of memoir and immigrant stories will appreciate Eire's journey and celebrate his accomplishments.—Susan Montgomery, Rollins Coll. Lib., Winter Park, FL
Kirkus Reviews

In a follow-up to his 2003 National Book Award–winningWaiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, Eire (History and Religious Studies/Yale Univ.) describes his early years of exile in the United States.

In 1962, at age 11, the author and his older brother, Tony, were among 14,000 children airlifted from Castro's Cuba to Florida. This vivid, affecting memoir of survival and coming of age traces Eire's experiences living in several places through 1965, when his mother finally came to the United States. In this period of "death and rebirth," the author tried to blot out memories of a repressive Castrolandia and thrilled to a Miami where everything was "so new, so free of ghosts, so wide open." While his brother was sent elsewhere, Eire was taken in by a kind Jewish family, learned English and Yiddish, and began calling himself Charles, hoping to fit in, even as he desperately missed his parents. His father remained and later died in Cuba. Within the year, the brothers were reunited in yet another Miami home, this one ruled by strict foster parents and overrun by mice and roaches. While Cuban exiles trained for war in nearby fields in the wake of the Bay of Pigs, Carlos felt "wholly and truly American," engaging in food fights and Halloween pranks. He also discovered a portal to a much larger world on the shelves of a local public library. Finally, in 1963, he and Tony happily joined the family of an uncle and aunt in the Midwest. There his experience of a "presence" on Holy Thursday helped him better understand the lessons of Thomas a Kempis's manual of devotion,The Imitation of Christ—a parting gift from his parents—and set him on a course to become a teacher and historian of religion.

An engrossing Cuban-American story that will leave readers wanting more.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781439181928
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
11/02/2010
Sold by:
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
134,786
File size:
4 MB

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From the Publisher
"Eire...describes the classic American immigrant experience...with a mix of insightful observation, humor, and heartfelt emotion." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

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