Waiting for Snow in Havana

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Overview

In 1962, at the age of eleven, Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba, his parents left behind. His life until then is the subject of Waiting for Snow in Havana, a wry, heartbreaking, intoxicatingly beautiful memoir of growing up in a privileged Havana household -- and of being exiled from his own childhood by the Cuban revolution. That childhood, until his world changes, is as joyous and troubled as any other -- but with exotic differences. Lizards roam the house and grounds. Fights aren't ...
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Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

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Overview

In 1962, at the age of eleven, Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba, his parents left behind. His life until then is the subject of Waiting for Snow in Havana, a wry, heartbreaking, intoxicatingly beautiful memoir of growing up in a privileged Havana household -- and of being exiled from his own childhood by the Cuban revolution. That childhood, until his world changes, is as joyous and troubled as any other -- but with exotic differences. Lizards roam the house and grounds. Fights aren't waged with snowballs but with breadfruit. The rich are outlandishly rich, like the eight-year-old son of a sugar baron who has a real miniature race car, or the neighbor with a private animal garden, complete with tiger. All this is bathed in sunlight and shades of turquoise and tangerine: the island of Cuba, says one of the stern monks at Carlos's school, might have been the original Paradise -- and it is tempting to believe. His father is a municipal judge and an obsessive collector of art and antiques, convinced that in a past life he was Louis XVI and that his wife was Marie Antoinette. His mother looks to the future; conceived on a transatlantic liner bound for Cuba from Spain, she wants her children to be modern, which means embracing all things American. His older brother electrocutes lizards. Surrounded by eccentrics, in a home crammed with portraits of Jesus that speak to him in dreams and nightmares, Carlos searches for secret proofs of the existence of God. Then, in January 1959, President Batista is suddenly gone, a cigar-smoking guerrilla named Castro has taken his place, and Christmas is canceled. The echo of firing squads is everywhere. At the Aquarium of the Revolution, sharks multiply in a swimming pool. And one by one, the author's schoolmates begin to disappear -- spirited away to the United States. Carlos will end up there himself, alone, never to see his father again.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786254040
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 5/22/2003
  • Series: Biography Series
  • Pages: 651
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.72 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Carlos Eire
Carlos Eire
While esteemed religion scholar Carlos Eire has published many scholarly texts, it is his scorching memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana that brought him to the public's attention and garnered a 2003 National Book Award. As Eire confides in our exclusive interview, "The greatest and sweetest irony of all is this: Readers are thanking me for Waiting for Snow, yet writing that book was the easiest and most pleasurable thing I have ever done."

Biography

Carlos Eire was born in Havana, Cuba, on 23 November 1950. At the age of eleven he fled to the United States without his parents, as one of 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children airlifted by Operation Peter Pan. Before joining the Yale faculty in 1996, he taught at St. John's University in Minnesota and the University of Virginia, and spent two years at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

His memoir of the Cuban Revolution, Waiting for Snow in Havana (Free Press, 2003), which won the National Book Award in nonfiction for 2003, has been translated into many languages, but is banned in Cuba. A second memoir, Learning to Die in Miami, was published in November 2010. It focuses on the early years of his exile in the United States.

Good To Know

In our exclusive interview with Eire, he shared some fascinating facts, anecdotes, and observations with us:

"Although Spanish is my native language, I think in English. Consequently, it is difficult for me to write well in Spanish. I tried translating my own book and gave up after one chapter, for the results looked like something a fifth-grader would have written. And that is just about right, since it was at the age of 11 that my education switched from Spanish to English. I am currently looking for a Spanish-language publisher who will buy the book and pay for a translator. Ironically, it has already been translated into Dutch and German, and a Finnish translation is in the works, but there is no Spanish translation anywhere on the horizon. This means that my own mother can't read my book. Though she has lived in the United States since 1965, she never learned English and has never been able to read anything I have written."

"I am constantly being asked: ‘Have you ever been back to Cuba?' or, ‘Would you like to go back?' My reply is: I will not go back while Castro is in power and human rights are routinely trampled. No way. When things change, as they will, I suppose I might go back. But the world that exists in my memory is so vivid only because I have given up on the idea of ever reclaiming it, physically. Unlike most people I know, I can't revisit my childhood haunts, so that world survives in my mind and in my soul, intact. I know that if I were to go back the squalor and the crushing oppression of present-day Havana, it would have a devastating effect on me. I got a good sense of that by trying to watch the film Buena Vista Social Club. I couldn't watch more than 15 minutes because the physical destruction of Havana -- and of my own people, and my past -- is so evident in that film. I started weeping so uncontrollably that I had to return the film to the video store, unwatched. As far as I am concerned, Fidel's Cuba might as well be the lowest circle of hell. I don't want to go to either place."

"I am also constantly told that Waiting for Snow in Havana reads more like a novel than a memoir. There is a good reason for this. I wrote the book as a novel and marketed it as a novel. I didn't really want to tell my story and expose details of my life to the whole world. My intention was to tell a story about a boy who grew up during the Cuban Revolution, and to expose through small details the horrors of what many people in the world still consider some benevolent humanitarian experiment. Soon after I began writing, however, I discovered that what had actually happened in my childhood was far more interesting than anything I could invent, so I simply kept writing straight from my memory, changing everyone's names.

"But after the publisher had purchased my manuscript and I revealed that 98 percent of what was in it was history rather than fiction, it became clear to all involved that it had to be published as a memoir. Since one of my reasons for writing a ‘novel' rather than a memoir was that I thought a novel would sell more copies and expose the real Cuba to a wider reading public, I agreed to publishing it as a memoir after it was pointed out to me that nonfiction sells better than fiction, and that my story would have a much greater impact if it were presented as a factual account. The funniest thing that has happened since publication is that many reviewers have praised the book's ‘magic realism' or even praised my imagination in coming up with such outlandish things as my father, the judge, who believes he is the reincarnation of King Louis XVI of France. I am still laughing and will always laugh at this. What a sweet irony: I expose the facts, and many believe them to be fiction, or even worse, ‘magic realism.' One reviewer actually accused me of making false claims and exaggerating. Another thing that makes me laugh is when people compliment me on the title. The fact is that the original title was Kiss the Lizard, Jesus. I still prefer that title and can never think of the book as Waiting for Snow in Havana. My editor found Kiss the Lizard repulsive, however, and asked me to change it. So I came up with a list of 150 alternative titles, and out of all of those Waiting for Snow jumped to first place. In my household, we still call the book The Lizard."

"I don't have time for hobbies -- other than writing books without footnotes -- but I do like to work with my hands. I love gardening and carpentry. I recently built a shed in the back yard, and am as proud of that as any book I have written, even though someone else did all the thinking for me and came up with the plans and measurements. Having failed trigonometry in high school, putting up a well-proportioned structure with straight angles on level ground was no small feat."

"We have four cats. Three are males: Sparky, a brown tabby; Wolfie, a gray Maine coon; and Ralph, an orange tabby. The fourth is a calico female: Oblyna. We keep them indoors all the time because we have a lot of coyotes, foxes, and skunks around our house. Sparky is our escape artist, but we have always been able to retrieve him from the woods. Once, however, our female, Oblyna, disappeared for two weeks. She had slipped out unnoticed. When she returned one Mother's Day morning, she had a huge gash along her back. Apparently, she had a run-in with the wildlife or a neighbor's dog. After being stitched up, she recovered nicely and has never gone out again."

"Speaking of predators and food chains: I am a vegetarian and therefore a huge pain in the neck to my wife and my kids and for anyone who invites me to dinner. I can't bring myself to eat anything that was once a living being. This might be due to the fact that a chimpanzee bit me when I was a child, showing me what it feels like to be eaten. I do eat eggs and milk products, but that is as far as I will go along with the exploitation of the animal proletariat. Since I often travel to Europe for my work, I have a hard time eating over there, especially in Spain, where vegetarianism tends to be considered a disease or a bizarre deviant behavior, akin to self-mutilation."

"And speaking of deviant behavior, here are six of my favorite ways to unwind: shoveling snow, raking leaves, mowing the lawn, splitting wood, digging large holes, and hauling heavy stones from one place to another. I also find any task that involves sledgehammers, axes, picks, and chainsaws very, very relaxing. This is what a revolution can do to your personality."

Read More Show Less
    1. Hometown:
      Guilford, Connecticut
    1. Date of Birth:
      November 23, 1950
    2. Place of Birth:
      Havana, Cuba
    1. Education:
      B.A., Loyola University, 1973; M.A., Yale University, 1974; M. Phil., Yale University, 1976; Ph.D., Yale, 1979

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 59 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 60 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 15, 2012

    Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

    Carlos Eire makes you laugh and he makes you cry as he recounts his early childhood in Havana "before the world changed." What was it like to grow up in a privileged family in Havana before Fidel Castro? What was it like to wave good-bye to your mother and father as a ten-year old and to leave your homeland (along with some 14,000 other child-refugees) to live in an orphanage in Miami? What is it like to live as a professor at Yale, longing to let go of the pains of the past yet passionately clinging to who you are deep in your soul, a Cuban, waiting for redemption both personal and national? Read Waiting for Snow in Havana.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 20, 2011

    Great Read!

    Engaging and well written. The colorful language and vivid recollections make this book very enjoyable & worthwhile. I highly recommend this book although I'm not sure I want my young boys reading this because there are way too many "ideas" for them and their friends to get into trouble! Entertaining, funny & heart wrenching at the same time! Loved this book!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2010

    A ribbon of remembrance

    Carlos Eire delivered a poignant, yet complex, memoir told in many vibrant tales about his childhood and subsequent exodus from Cuba in 1962. In 1959, Castro sent troops to oust then President Batista which led to an unstable political climate.

    Eire, as a son of a somewhat quirky, but wealthy, judge with an imaginative mind who believed himself to be a reincarnated Louis XVI, sent his sons (Carlos and Tony) to an elite school. When Castro came to power, all of the little luxuries suddenly became quite dangerous to openly possess. The decision to airlift his sons out of Cuba in a program called Operation Pedro (Peter) Pan must have been a difficult one.

    Once in America, Eire passed through a series of foster care homes and it was some years before the mother was able to be reunited with her sons. They never saw the father again. The honest anger and emotion comes through loud and clear as does the longing for a homeland he had to leave behind. When Eire writes, "in the past 38 years I've seen 8,917 clouds in the shape of the island of Cuba" the reader can't help but feel the depth of his grieving.

    Eire, with a PhD in History and Religion from Yale, has shaped these words into a prayer to his lost childhood.

    Highly recommended.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 16, 2011

    Reading it for the second time

    This book is the best of both worlds. It's non-fiction that reads like fiction. The writing is rich and beautiful. Highly recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 20, 2013

    As a student of Cuban history, having studied at the university

    As a student of Cuban history, having studied at the university of Havana, I found this book infuriating. I think that the book serves only as an interesting insight into the biased and often inflexible perspective of the Cuban diaspora in the US.  The idea of Batistas cuba as a "paradise" is absurd and the conjecture that the revolution has spoiled the cuba that could have been is even more so.  If you would like to inform yourself about cuba both past and present I recommend educating yourself fully on the islands fascinating history, you will also learn quite a big about the US in doing so. This book is not a good source for information regarding the effects of the revolution on cuba as a whole but rather an interesting insight into one mans personal experience and how his life has shaped his memories and perspective. 

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2013

    Great book to read if you're interested in Cuba

    Enjoyed the book as I am ttraveling to Cuba. Like the details as to what it was like after the Revolution---the changes that happened. I was more interested in that than the details of Carlos's daily life before the Revolution, but it made an interesting story even though I would have preferred more details about the Revolution. The book is banned in Cuba,

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2013

    Wite fang

    $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ thies are the most best BOOKS EVER

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    Deciding to purchase this book...

    Just viewed a TV program about the " Pedro Pan " Cuban children that fled into the US in the early 60's as Carlos Eire being one of them. Just his comments on this program gives me less reasons to consider reading his book because he seems to be stuck in that trauma of his childhood and the vision of the Cuba that could have been. What he needs to do is move forward and find better ways to help the Cuba peoples' stuggles. The reason Cuba is not free is that the Cuban people are not willing to shed their blood for the ultimate sacrifice at ending that regime!

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2010

    Pretty bad..

    I could not get past the writer's constant references to 18th Century France and how his family were the Bourbons in a previous life. I bought the book to read about Cuba, not some far-fetched fantasy. To confess, I read exactly only FIVE pages, so this review is quite biased. You know, if you just emigrated to escape Fidel, it does not add up to a story worth telling. There must be more to that...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 13, 2008

    Grandiose in Childhood...

    Although the author is recounting of his time as a child in Cuba, he interjects his adult perceptions into the story giving the child a much more mature perception than is believable.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2007

    Paints a beautiful picture of an incredible place

    Being of cuban decent, I am eager to read anything I can that can give me information on the country I originate from. This book is incredibly well written and describes in detail the love for a country and the heartbreak we have all felt post Fidel. I couldn't put the book down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2006

    draining

    As a Floridian i have a passing interest on Cuba. I have many Cuban friends and was looking forward to this book. It actually made me angry. The author was a spoiled, whiny rich brat in Cuba and continued to be a whiny brat in the U.S. I admire how he made something of himself in the U.S. but come on. Many of us suffer tragedies and setbacks that we must overcome. His story was no more fascinating then someone that has lost a parent or been abandoned by a parent. I did not find him likable at all. He was born to wealth and had it taken from him. Boo hoo. Save the drama Carlos. All in all you have had it pretty good. Not a good book

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2006

    Beautiful

    A bitterweet memoir of a time gone by. Eire writes with such passion and honesty that one cannot but help feel his affection for the Cuba of his childhood and his anger for Castro and the Revolution. Well written and powerful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 16, 2006

    Dragging myself through

    I read (most of) this book as part of a book club selection. It was enthusiastically recommended by someone who really connected with it. She raved about it. For that reason, I dove into the book wanting to like it. While the stories told within were interesting at times, I got a little tired of the reptile explosions and similar anecdotes. While the author paints the characters well, it just fell flat for me - I put it down with no desire to return. I made myself pick it up again and again to keep trying, but finally lost interest. If you are from Cuba or have a close connection to the country, perhaps you'll enjoy it - it seems to be either something people really love, or don't embrace at all. The latter was true with our book club. It just didn't go over well with the group - and we're a pretty diverse bunch.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2006

    Brought Havana To Life

    Wonderful recreation of a time and place known to my friends but not to me. Enjoyed reading about my part of Miami being mentioned by name and the time period I had heard about before. Mr. Eire had a wonderful and courageous mother.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2006

    It could have been better

    I was brought up in Cuba so I looked forward to this book. I was born after Castro took over and never experienced Cuba before the revolution. I was fascinated by his family stories, and the freedoms he had that I never had nor imagined were possible. Private schools were unheard of and switching schools was not an option. My confusion came when I was attempting to put the events in chronological order in my mind. The book skipped around quite a bit. It was difficult for me to put pieces together in relation to the history of the country. All in all it was a good read, but it could have been better.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2005

    Excellent Read

    Eire writes with a bitter sweet attitude about this terrible transition from the Cuba of his youth to the Cuba of Castro. He captures the beautiful hearts of Cuba's people and of their once beautiful country. I laughed with him, I cried for Cuba.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2005

    The Snow Never Comes

    This story of a young boy in Cuba and his games, friends and youngstr's view of the political situation is fascinating, especially when you consider how long it has been since America decided Castro would not last - and he is still there, and this boy got out but lost his country and his father.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2005

    FANTASTIC!

    This was a truly amazing book to read. Carlos is a wonderful writer, who managed to relate his experiences as a child at the beginning of Castro's regime in a way that touches your soul. Having only seen the run-down Havana that exists today, 46 years after Castro took over and destroyed his country, I now have a better idea of what life was like when that country was still free and 'normal.' The pain and desperation Eire experienced during this horrible transition to communism come to life in the pages of this wonderfully written book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2004

    If only there were a million stars!

    Wow! That is all I can say. Carlos really captured the essence and beauty of Cuba before the Revolution. I felt like I was right there, beside him pelting rocks at his friends. Awesome book, go read it right now!

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