Our Favourite Books About Cuba to Accompany Your Next Long Smoke

Our Favourite Books About Cuba to Accompany Your Next Long Smoke

 By Chris Cotonou

The Cuba of our imagination includes sweeping beaches, romantic, simmering Latin architecture, drums, a drop of rum and an inviting whiff of cigar smoke. Much of this vision was fed to us through the books and films that use the island as a setting, and by the writers that love Cuba dearly (and in many cases, enjoy a smoke just like us.) With a good mix of foreign and local perspectives, these stories have been responsible for the country’s continued tourism and still, to this day, inspire people like yours truly, to seek out and uncover the Cuba that is reflected through the words, descriptions, people and politics. So, as you prepare a Partagas, or a Trinidad, and settle into a comfy seat, these are the books that ought to accompany and transport you for a few peaceful hours to the Caribbean. 

The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

It’s Ernest Hemingway, so you can expect stark narratives about manhood and danger. The writer was obsessed with the island, retreating to his villa in San Francisco de Paula in old age where he did some of his most thoughtful work. The Old Man and the Sea was his last major work of fiction, a mysterious tale about an unlucky fisherman, a young boy, and a giant fish that has the magic and mystery of an old fable. Set off the coast of Havana, it shows the Papa’s ability to recognise and translate local customs in his own words. A classic, and short enough for a single reading, which Hemingway probably wrote while puffing on his favourite Hoyo de Monterrey Double Corona.

Dreaming in Cuban, by Cristian Garcia

By Cuban writer Cristian Garcia, this is an epic, roaring tale set against the backdrop of the revolution. Celia loves the island and El Líder (Fidel Castro). Her elder daughter, Lourdes, has fled to the US with her family, embraced the American dream and despises Castro. Meanwhile, Celia’s troubled younger daughter, Felicia, seeks solace in the Afro-Cuban religion of santeria. Most of the “dreaming in Cuban” is done by Celia’s granddaughter in New York, Pilar, who struggles to fragment her Cuban-American identity. It is a necessary look at the struggles and hopes of the Cuban people – and a particularly interesting way to learn more about their history and culture in their own words. 

Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene 

With Graham Greene, you know it’s going to be a story full of wit and elegant descriptions. A black comedy set in Havana during the Batista regime that makes fun of Britain’s spy exploits. Wormold is a fascinating character, whose strange adventure becomes more ridiculous as you read on, and although the Cuban government resented its publication, Greene was careful to avoid offending them. This is the anti-James Bond, but written with the same keen eye and romance for far-away lands as in Greene’s The Quiet American. A book that adds a light touch to whomever it finds. 

Havana Fever, by Leonardo Padura 

For mystery fans, Leonardo Padura’s 2003 noir thriller draws on his experience as a gritty crime investigator in Havana. It paints Havana in an intoxicating seedy, sweaty, and rhythmic light, involving the disappearance of an enigmatic bolero singer. What makes Padura’s tale so memorable is how it reveals another side to the glamorous Cuba of so many of our imaginations – a stark reflection on the current society. It’s not all serious, though. The pace could have been gifted to Padura by Raymond Chandler (an obvious inspiration) and there is some light humour in the midst of darkness. Padura himself is said to enjoy his Diplomáticos.

Cuba: A History, by Richard Gott

Not only is this a beautiful book to find lying on your living room table, but it is also one of the most extensive histories of Cuba ever written. Gott has spent much of his writing-career on the island (he was even present in Bolivia to identify Guevara’s body) and writes its history in a way that weaves the hopes and sufferings of the people in an articulate voice. There’s also some brief mention of the cigar’s effect on the island’s economy. But if non-fiction is more of your thing, this would be our suggestion, and especially before your next trip over there. 

These would be our informed picks for books about Cuba – by Cubans and by those who love the island. Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below.

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