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Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

3.8 62
by Carlos Eire, David Drummond (Narrated by)

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Carlos Eire's National Book Award–winning memoir of his childhood in 1950s Havana and the overnight upheaval of his world in January 1959, when the Batista government was toppled.


Carlos Eire's National Book Award–winning memoir of his childhood in 1950s Havana and the overnight upheaval of his world in January 1959, when the Batista government was toppled.

Editorial Reviews

The Los Angeles Times
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
The New Yorker
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.
Publishers Weekly
"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.
Kirkus Reviews
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
From the Publisher
Los Angeles Times The most accomplished literary expression of exile sensibility to have appeared to date. What is powerful and lasting about the book is Eire's evocation of childhood and his extraordinary literary ability.

The Boston Globe Eire is gifted with what might be called lyric precision -- a knack for grasping the life of a moment through its sensuous particulars....Vigorously written and alive.

The Washington Post Bursting with wonderful details and images and populated by characters so well described that they seem to be sitting next to you on the couch.

The Miami Herald A wistful glimpse of a shattered world.

Product Details

Tantor Media, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
MP3 - Unabridged CD
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1


The world changed while I slept, and much to my surprise, no one had consulted me. That's how it would always be from that day forward. Of course, that's the way it had been all along. I just didn't know it until that morning. Surprise upon surprise: some good, some evil, most somewhere in between. And always without my consent.

I was barely eight years old, and I had spent hours dreaming of childish things, as children do. My father, who vividly remembered his prior incarnation as King Louis XVI of France, probably dreamt of costume balls, mobs, and guillotines. My mother, who had no memory of having been Marie Antoinette, couldn't have shared in his dreams. Maybe she dreamt of hibiscus blossoms and fine silk. Maybe she dreamt of angels, as she always encouraged me to do. "Sueña con los angelitos," she would say: Dream of little angels. The fact that they were little meant they were too cute to be fallen angels.

Devils can never be cute.

The tropical sun knifed through the gaps in the wooden shutters, as always, extending in narrow shafts of light above my bed, revealing entire galaxies of swirling dust specks. I stared at the dust, as always, rapt. I don't remember getting out of bed. But I do remember walking into my parents' bedroom. Their shutters were open and the room was flooded with light. As always, my father was putting on his trousers over his shoes. He always put on his socks and shoes first, and then his trousers. For years I tried to duplicate that nearly magical feat, with little success. The cuffs of my pants would always get stuck on my shoes and no amount of tugging could free them. More than once I risked an eternity in hell and spit out swear words. I had no idea that if your pants are baggy enough, you can slide them over anything, even snowshoes. All I knew then was that I couldn't be like my father.

As he slid his baggy trousers over his brown wingtip shoes, effortlessly, Louis XVI broke the news to me: "Batista is gone. He flew out of Havana early this morning. It looks like the rebels have won."

"You lie," I said.

"No, I swear, it's true," he replied.

Marie Antoinette, my mother, assured me it was true as she applied lipstick, seated at her vanity table. It was a beautiful piece of mahogany furniture with three mirrors: one flat against the wall and two on either side of that, hinged so that their angles could be changed at will. I used to turn the side mirrors so they would face each other and create infinite regressions of one another. Sometimes I would peer in and plunge into infinity.

"You'd better stay indoors today," my mother said. "God knows what could happen. Don't even stick your head out the door." Maybe she, too, had dreamt of guillotines after all? Or maybe it was just sensible, motherly advice. Perhaps she knew that the heads of the elites don't usually fare well on the street when revolutions triumph, not even when the heads belong to children.

That day was the first of January 1959.

The night before, we had all gone to a wedding at a church in the heart of old Havana. On the way home, we had the streets to ourselves. Not another moving car in sight. Not a soul on the Malecón, the broad avenue along the waterfront. Not even a lone prostitute. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette kept talking about the eerie emptiness of the city. Havana was much too quiet for a New Year's Eve.

I can't remember what my older brother, Tony, was doing that morning or for the rest of the day. Maybe he was wrapping lizards in thin copper wire and hooking them up to our Lionel train transformer. He liked to electrocute them. He liked it a lot. He was also fond of saying: "Shock therapy, ha! That should cure them of their lizard delusion." I don't want to remember what my adopted brother, Ernesto, was doing. Probably something more monstrous than electrocuting lizards.

My older brother and my adopted brother had both been Bourbon princes in a former life. My adopted brother had been the Dauphin, the heir to the French throne. My father had recognized him on the street one day, selling lottery tickets, and brought him to our house immediately. I was the outsider. I alone was not a former Bourbon. My father wouldn't tell me who I had been. "You're not ready to hear it," he would say. "But you were very special."

My father's sister, Lucía, who lived with us, spent that day being as invisible as she always was. She, too, had once been a Bourbon princess. But now, in this life, she was a spinster: a lady of leisure with plenty of time on her hands and no friends at all. She had been protected so thoroughly from the corrupt culture of Cuba and the advances of the young men who reeked of it as to have been left stranded, high and dry, on the lonely island that was our house. Our island within the island. Our safe haven from poor taste and all unseemly acts, such as dancing to drumbeats. She had lived her entire life as a grown woman in the company of her mother and her maiden aunt, who, like her, had remained a virgin without vows. When her mother and aunt died, she moved to a room at the rear of our house and hardly ever emerged. Whether she had any desires, I'll never know. She seemed not to have any. I don't remember her expressing any opinion that day on the ouster of Batista and the triumph of Fidel Castro and his rebels. But a few days later she did say that those men who came down from the mountains needed haircuts and a shave.

Our maid worked for us that day, as always. Her name was Inocencia, and her skin was a purple shade of black. She cooked, cleaned the house, and did the laundry. She was always there. She seemed to have no family of her own. She lived in a room that was attached to the rear of the house but had no door leading directly into it. To enter our house she had to exit her small room and walk a few steps across the patio and through the backdoor, which led to the kitchen. She had a small bathroom of her own too, which I sometimes used when I was playing outdoors.

Once, long before that day when the world changed, I opened the door to that bathroom and found her standing inside, naked. I still remember her shriek, and my shock. I stood there frozen, a child of four, staring at her mountainous African breasts. A few days later, at the market with my mother, I pointed to a shelf full of eggplants and shouted "Tetas de negra!" Black women's tits! Marie Antoinette placed her hand over my mouth and led me away quickly as the grocers laughed and made lewd remarks. I couldn't understand what I had done wrong. Those eggplants did look just like Inocencia's breasts, right down to the fact that both had aureolas and nipples. The only difference was that while Inocencia's were bluish black, those of the eggplants were green. Later in life I would search for evidence of God's presence. That resemblance was my first proof for the existence of God. And eggplants would forever remind me of our nakedness and shame.

A few months after that New Year's Day, Inocencia quit working for us. She was replaced by a thin, wiry woman named Caridad, or Charity, who was angry and a thief. My parents would eventually fire her for stealing. She loved Fidel, and she listened to the radio in the kitchen all day long. It was the only Cuban music I ever heard. My father, the former Louis XVI, would not allow anything but classical music to be played in the main part of the house. He remembered meeting some of the composers whose music he played, and he pined for those concerts at Versailles. Cuban music was restricted to the kitchen and the maid's room.

Caridad loved to taunt me when my parents weren't around. "Pretty soon you're going to lose all this." "Pretty soon you'll be sweeping my floor." "Pretty soon I'll be seeing you at your fancy beach club, and you'll be cleaning out the trash cans while I swim." With menacing smirks, she threatened that if I ever told my parents about her taunts, she would put a curse on me.

"I know all sorts of curses. Changó listens to me; I offer him the best cigars, and plenty of firewater. I'll hex you and your whole family. Changó and I will set a whole army of devils upon you."

My father had warned me about the evil powers of Changó and the African gods. He spoke to me of men struck dead in the prime of life, of housewives driven mad with love for their gardeners, of children horribly disfigured. So I kept quiet. But I think she put a curse on me anyway, and on my whole family, for not allowing her to steal and taunt until that day, "pretty soon," when she could take over the house. Her devils swooped down on all of us, with the same speed as the rebels that swept across the whole island on that day.

The lizards remained oblivious to the news that day, as always. Contrary to what my brother Tony liked to say as he administered shock treatments to them, the lizards were not deluded in the least. They knew exactly what they were and always would be. Nothing had changed for them. Nothing would ever change. The world already belonged to them whole, free of vice and virtue. They scurried up and down the walls of the patio, and along its brightly colored floor tiles. They lounged on tree branches, sunned themselves on rocks. They clung to the ceilings inside our house, waiting for bugs to eat. They never fell in love, or sinned, or suffered broken hearts. They knew nothing of betrayal or humiliation. They needed no revolutions. Dreaming of guillotines was unnecessary for them, and impossible. They feared neither death nor torture at the hands of children. They worried not about curses, or proof of God's existence, or nakedness. Their limbs looked an awful lot like our own, in the same way that eggplants resembled breasts. Lizards were ugly, to be sure — or so I thought back then. They made me question the goodness of creation.

I could never kiss a lizard, I thought. Never.

Perhaps I envied them. Their place on earth was more secure than ours. We would lose our place, lose our world. They are still basking in the sun. Same way. Day in, day out.

Copyright © 2003 by Carlos Eire

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"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." —-Publishers Weekly Starred Review

Meet the Author

Born in Havana in 1950, Carlos Eire left his homeland in 1962, one of fourteen thousand unaccompanied children airlifted out of Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan. After living in a series of foster homes in Florida and Illinois, he was reunited with his mother in Chicago in 1965. His father, who died in 1976, never left Cuba. After earning his Ph.D. at Yale University in 1979, Eire taught at St. John's University in Minnesota for two years and at the University of Virginia for fifteen. He is now the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale University. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with his wife, Jane, and their three children. David Drummond has made his living as an actor for over twenty-five years, appearing on stages large and small throughout the country and in Seattle, Washington, his hometown. He has narrated over thirty audiobooks for Tantor, in genres ranging from current political commentary to historical nonfiction, from fantasy to military, and from thrillers to humor. He received an AudioFile Earphones Award for his first audiobook, Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay. When not narrating, David keeps busy writing plays and stories for children.

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Waiting for Snow in Havana 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
ParisMaddy More than 1 year ago
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.
dmp326 More than 1 year ago
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!
sfsd More than 1 year ago
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.
TulaneGirl More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is this book good for me to be reading because i really like thus book and will i understand it if i read it and does it have any bad words in it can someon please tell me if there i any bad words in this book and can someone answer me back
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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,
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