19 August 2011

HAVANA REAL by Yoani Sánchez

9781935554257 / eBook: 9781935554912

One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today

A diary of life inside Havana by one of Cuba's few bloggers--a worldwide sensation. 

Yoani Sánchez is an unusual dissident: no street protests, no attacks on big politicos, no calls for revolution. Rather, she produces a simple diary about what it means to live under the Castro regime in Cuba: the chronic hunger and the difficulty of shopping; the art of repairing ancient appliances; the struggles of living under a propaganda machine that pushes deep into public and private life. For these simple acts of truth-telling her life is one of constant threat.
But she continues on, refusing to be silenced—a living response to all who have ceased to believe in a future for Cuba.


I'm reading Havana Real. My thoughts turn to my youth in the seventies. I remember watching news coverage showing, what seemed to me, valiant people daring shark infested seas in search of freedom. Their 'boats' little more than flimsy rafts pieced together from the most unlikely parts: old tires, planks of plywood, the shell of an old rusting car. I remember seeing the US Coast Guard waiting beyond an invisible barrier silently cheering the refugees on, waiting to bring them to freedom. These were days just after the Cuban Missile crisis and my country was still fearful of our neighbors, fearful of the might of a little island with a strong and passionate leader. Every Cuban that crossed that imaginary boundary in the middle of the Atlantic was a victory for freedom and even I, as a child, was touched by their bravery.
It's been many years since I was first exposed to the desperate plight that plagues this small island yet the struggle of Cubans still wages on. I recently met a man that told me his story. He first tried to come to The US as a young man, still in his teens. His crossing was not successful and he and his raft mates were caught somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic between America and Cuba. He was held in prison for nine years emerging finally, a man in his late twenties. He told me how he felt that his most important years had slipped away from him. First love, a chance for education, any kind of decent employment were lost to him. He emerged into an island more degraded than the one he had sought to flee and his sadness overwhelmed him. After three years of working, doing anything to earn enough money to buy his right to risk his life on yet another raft he finally made it to the US.
He is free now, he misses his family, he is grateful for his freedom. He spoke of the wonderful people he left behind in Cuba, of his family, of the slow pace of life, the warmth of community and I wondered at the price of freedom. I wondered at the lengths humans will go to so they can be free to speak and think, to worship and simply live. I wonder how those of us fortunate enough to have all of this seem not to notice how millions around the world are living under conditions so severe that they can not even voice an opinion for fear that they may end up in prison. I wonder how many millions of stories there are left to be told. Stories of oppression and desperation. Tales of constant fear, hunger and terrible hardship. We see the news, we hear stories of war and we are saddened at the loss of life. But what do we know of the human tale? What do we know of mothers trying to feed their children when there is little food to be had, of father's leaving in the morning to find work when there is none? What do we know of hunger or seeing your child go barefoot in the cold because shoes can not be found much less bought? What do we know of the little struggles that people go through every day just to survive? Reading a book like Havana Real makes the situations, not just of the Cubans but millions around the world, so personal. We are familiar with the horrific stories but the little daily struggles we can not understand because we have no frame of reference. We have no gauge by which to measure it. At what point would it be too much of a burden to bear? At what point does a young man break under the pressure and leave everything behind to build a life in foreign country where he knows no one? Would I be strong enough do that? The answer I can tell you is no.
Havana Real is a book that needed to be written but more than that it is a book that needs to be read.


Yoani Sanchez, a University of Havana graduate in philology, emigrated to Switzerland in 2002. Two years later, she decided to return to Cuba, but promised herself she would live there as a free person and started her blog, Generation Y, upon her return. In 2008, Time magazine named her one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World"; it named Generation Y one of the "Best Blogs of 2009." Spain honored her with its highest award for digital journalism, the Ortega y Gasset Prize. This year, First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton honored her with the International Women of Culture Award. She lives with her husband, independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, and their son in a high-rise apartment in Havana, overlooking Revolution Square.
Translator M.J. Porter lives in Seattle, where she is a partner in a transportation-consulting firm. She co-founded the cooperative website, HemosOido.com, where volunteers now translate the work of more than thirty Cuban bloggers into English, German, French and Danish.

* I received an advance copy from the publisher for purposes of review. I was in no way obligated to write a review much less a favorable one. The opinions stated herein are all my own.


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