What is powerful and lasting about the book is his evocation of childhood, above all of the life he led with his family in Havana before the revolution, and his extraordinary literary ability. For while I am skeptical about Eire's Cuban "essence," I am utterly persuaded, on the basis of this book, that Eire has the makings of a first-rate novelist. He insists that his is a memoir and not a work of fiction, and he is right to do so. And yet, almost wherever one looks in the book, the novelist keeps edging to the fore. — David Rieff
At the start of the nineteen-sixties, an operation called Pedro Pan flew more than fourteen thousand Cuban children out of the country, without their parents, and deposited them in Miami. Eire, now a professor of history and religion at Yale, was one of them. His deeply moving memoir describes his life before Castro, among the aristocracy of old Cuba -- his father, a judge, believed himself to be the reincarnation of Louis XVI -- and, later, in America, where he turned from a child of privilege into a Lost Boy. Eire's tone is so urgent and so vividly personal (he is even nostalgic about Havana's beautiful blue clouds of DDT) that his unsparing indictments of practically everyone concerned, including himself, seem all the more remarkable.
"Metaphors matter to me, especially perfect ones," Yale historian Eire writes in this beautifully fashioned memoir, as he recounts one of many wonderfully vibrant stories from his boyhood in 1950s Havana. As imaginatively wrought as the finest piece of fiction, the book abounds with magical interpretations of ordinary boyhood events-playing in a friend's backyard is like a perilous journey through the jungle; setting off firecrackers becomes a lyrical, cosmic opera; a child's birthday party turns into a phantasmagoria of American pop cultural icons. Taking his cue from his father, a man with "a very fertile, nearly inexhaustible imagination, totally dedicated to inventing past lives," Eire looks beyond the literal to see the mythological themes inherent in the epic struggle for identity that each of our lives represents. Into this fantastic idyll comes Castro-"Beelzebub, Herod, and the Seven-Headed Beast of the Apocalypse rolled into one"-overthrowing the Batista regime at the very end of 1958 and sweeping away everything that the author holds dear. A world that had been bursting with complicated, colorful meaning is replaced with the monotony of Castro's rhetoric and terrorizing "reform." Symbols of Jesus that had once provided spiritual enlightenment by popping up in the author's premonitions and dreams were now literally being demolished and destroyed by a government that has outlawed religion. The final cataclysm comes when Eire and his brother, still young boys, are shipped off to the United States to seek safety and a better life (another paradise, perhaps). They never see their father again. As painful as Eire's journey has been, his ability to see tragedy and suffering as a constant source of redemption is what makes this book so powerful. Where his father believed that we live many lives in different bodies, Eire sees his own life as a series of deaths within the same body. "Dying can be beautiful," he writes, "And waking up is even more beautiful. Even when the world has changed." Taking his cue from his beloved Jesus, the author believes that we repeatedly die for our sins and are reborn into a new awareness of paradise. How fortunate for readers, then, that by way of Eire's "confessions," they too will be able to renew their souls through his transcendent words. BOMC, QPB alternates. (Feb. 5) Forecast: The Free Press has high hopes for this exceptional memoir. With the right review, aided by the author's seven-city tour, it should sell extremely well. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Between mercurial and leisurely, lush and thorny, jumbled and crystalline, Yale historian Eire’s recollection of his Cuban boyhood is to be savored. The years are the 1950s, and Eire’s family is "quite high on the food chain" in Havana. Not absurdly so—his family are not Batista toadies—but his is a privileged childhood, one that lets him take ample advantage of "the turquoise sea and the tangerine light bathing everything, making all of creation glow as if from within." He is allowed to be a kid, fruitful of imagination, finding evidence of God in the eggplants that resemble the breasts of a black woman (he is four years old at the time of this realization), scampering from voodoo and woe, aware of Cuba’s misery and corruption before he is a teenager, harboring a fear of sin and the eye of Jesus, already developing a distaste for Kant: "may you burn in hell forever, Immanuel [for all your empiricism], you obsessive-compulsive pedant . . ." For Eire has a need to transcend linear logic with digressions and jump-starts, flashes forward and backward, yet inexorable: the year 1959 is coming and so is Fidel, and life is going to change, when the thanksgiving, the humor, and the confessional will come to be mixed with bitterness as his family catch their bountiful share of the revolution’s wrath. Yet there is Eire, dreaming of Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak while thinking how much Camilo Cienfuegos looked like Christ—"Maybe this is why Fidel made him disappear early on in the Revolution"—talking of ripe breadfruit and faked executions and counterrevolution, because each throws the other into such high relief. At 12, in 1962, Eire is shipped off to the US, without his family, fortune’s spikywheel taking another turn. "Wait. One more memory . . . " They come in beautiful profusion, coalescing into a young life in a lyric memoir of the utterly vanished. Author tour