A writer who fled Fidel Castro's dictatorship with her family melds memoir and political history n a debut that recalls her life in exile in South Florida and reassesses the Cuban revolution.
On January 2, 1959, Catasus writes, her mother received a 2 a.m. phone call that "put an abrupt end to my adolescence." On the line was her father, a senior officer in the Cuban Air Force, who told his family to leave home immediately, as the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista had just fallen to Fidel Castro's guerilla insurgents. Her family would soon make "the penultimate sacrifice" of spending their lives as exiles in South Florida, where they joined hundreds of thousands of Cuba's affluent professionals, polititicians, and military officers who had supported Batista's government. While her first book is largely an overview of the legacy of the Cuban revolution, Catasus excels at blending analyses of national events with intimate stories of her early years in Havana. Even as a child, she says, she "could see signs" of Batista's demise: By 1958, many of her middle-class circle of family and friends "openly supported" Castro, and the pro-Castro nuns at her Catholic school held a mass in support of the revolutionary. As she weaves her personal experiences into a larger historical narrative, Catasus gives frank but well-informed critiques of the policies of both Cuba and the United States. Like many Cuban exiles in America, Catasus is no fan of Castro's government, arguing thathis movement should not even be labeled a revolution, "at least not in any positive way," because it represented "a total set-back" for the island nation.
While plenty of Cuban authors, particularly conservatives, have written anti-Castro tomes, this one stands out for the author's emphasis on the "highly hypocritical" nature of Castro's movement as it relates to Black and gay Cubanos "persecuted" throught his half-century in power. Its analysis is similarly critical of Cubans in the U.S. who "have retreated into their 'whiteness'" and slighted contributions of Blackand queer Cubans to the development of the island's "unique national character and personality." Catasus nuanced analysis includes equally biting commentary on the history of Spanish and American interference in the nation's early history, with particular scorn directed to "the inept Eisenhower Administration." Having retired from a career in local government in Florida, the author also has much to say about contemporary American politics and its parallels to Cuba's revolutionary era. Catasus argues that, like Castro supporters who saw the populist totalitarian as the solution to government's corruption and ineptitude, many supporters of Donald Trump ignored blatant warning signs, "allowing their emotions [to] dictate what their heads should be deciding." Upfront about her own ideological biases, she is generally fair in her historical narrative of the events leading up to the Cuban revolution and backs up her views with ample in-text citations and an annotated bibliography of scholarly sources she drew on in her research. Her analysis has occasional blind spots. Its critique of "schophant Catholic officials" who supported Castro, for instance belies a more complex story of the church's hierarchy, which included ardent supporters of Batista. Overall, however, the book gives a unique view of a turbulent era, particularly in its attention to Black and gay Cubanos whos contributions other accounts overlook.
An engaging overview of the history and legacy of the Cuban revolution by a writer who saw its effects firsthand.