A Havana Childhood is Peashooters, Firecrackers and Lizards

Posted on November 14, 2011

Waiting For Snow In Havana By: Carlos Eire

Carlos Eire was born in the Republic of Cuba and was a young teenager when Castro rolled into town (Eire watched the parade when he came in but somehow missed seeing him). Within a year he was one of 14,000 children that fled the island in (one of my favorite operation titles ever) Operation Pedro Pan. “Waiting For Snow In Havana” is an account of his childhood in Cuba’s capital city.

Once again, I was tricked into reading a work of philosophy. I’m only half kidding. Eire is currently a professor of philosophy at Yale University. So it’s only natural that his work should creep into the work. But at times it’s a bit overwhelming. He continually refers to Kant’s 5 proofs of God and, at the end of the 2nd to last chapter he has a conversation with him, is forgiven for his sins and kisses a lizard.

In fact, this might be one of my favorite books of all time if he trimmed it by about 100 pages. That’s just me, and, once again, if you’re totally into philosophy and stuff, you will definitely dig this.

But the rest of the book is truly something else. In many ways, Eire has a very typical childhood. He runs around with his pals. He blows up lizards with firecrackers. He is guilty about the things he does. He gets in trouble at school.

But it all takes place in Havana. I have read a number of books about Republican Cuba but this one has given me the best idea of what upper-middle class life would be like there. He painstakingly builds a complete scene. At times you can almost hear, smell, taste and feel his life.

Yes, part of it takes place in Chicago, after he has made it there from Cuba (life is hard and cold for a refugee).

In many ways it’s a people’s history of Cuba. For example, one of his major gripes is how shoddy the sodas are after the Revolution (yeah, that’s a capital R). Before, there was Coca Cola and Pepsi. After, all the colas were made from state owned and you literally had no idea what you were going to get with each bottle.

He also gives an account of the darker side of the revolution. How men were pulled out of their houses and shot for no reason. How lawlessness was taken care of ruthlessly. And how poorly the black skinned residents were treated. In fact, he has not returned since the Revolution because of the abuses.

It drags at times but “Waiting for Snow of Havana” is a one of a kind book. If you are looking for a piece of history and a personal account of one of the most fascinating and free places on the planet, then Carlos Eire’s work is a must read. It’s touching and deeply evocative of an island paradise.

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