Book Review

 

Waiting for Snow in Havan book cover

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

Author: Carlos Eire
Publisher: Free Press, a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.
Page Count: 390

By Rev. Mark Ralls

Shortly after the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1962, 14,000 children were airlifted out of Cuba to start new lives in the United States. This forgotten episode of American history was called Operation Pedro (Peter) Pan. It was an appropriate codename. Whisked away from parents and home, forced to negotiate immigration procedures and foster care in a strange new land, these children must have felt like the lost boys of J. M. Barrie’s classic tale. One of these children was Carlos Eire (pronounced "Air"). Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy, winner of the 2003 National Book Award, is his memoir of loss and redemption.

Reminiscent of the magical realism of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Eire constructs a self-assured, graceful narrative equal to any novelist.
The son of a wealthy Cuban judge, young Carlos lost everything when Fidel Castro came to power. Almost overnight, he went from being a spoiled young scion of a privileged family to living a hard-scrabble existence in South Florida and Chicago. Somehow, Eire not only managed to survive this ordeal but to thrive. Working his way through school in a hotel restaurant, Eire eventually became a professor of religion at Yale University. The author of several scholarly works, Waiting for Snow is his first written for a popular audience. It is, Eire quips, his "first book without footnotes." This makes his achievement all the more remarkable. Reminiscent of the magical realism of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Eire constructs a self-assured, graceful narrative equal to any novelist.

Eire never allows his personal tragedy to dip into the maudlin or the melodramatic. Eschewing the self-indulgent introspection of many recent memoirs, Eire conveys his loss by capturing the idyllic world he was forced to leave behind. His tales of car surfing along the Malecon Sea with his eccentric father, sending lizards into "space" on toy rockets with his brother, or the lavish lifestyles of his well-heeled neighbors (one even turns his swimming pool into a shark tank), combine to invite readers into a surreal, tropical paradise. As we watch him arrive at the Miami International Airport never to see Cuba or his father again, we too feel as though we are being ushered out of Eden. As a man in his 50s, when Eire offers the off-hand comment that "in the past 38 years I’ve seen 8,917 clouds in the shape of the island Cuba," we see clearly that his loss is irrevocable.

Not surprisingly, Eire pictures what such complete, eternal redemption will be like through his memories of Cuba.
And, yet, as a Christian, Eire trusts that even irrevocable loss is not beyond the pale of redemption. One day, he will make peace with his enemies, perhaps even his greatest enemy of all, Fidel Castro. He suggests that this can only take place through the power of God with whom we are destined "to abide for eternity." Perhaps the most remarkable achievement of all is that Eire views his personal loss from an eternal perspective. He tells his personal story in light of the Christian story, which includes the hope that one day God will make right everything that has gone wrong in our world. Not surprisingly, Eire pictures what such complete, eternal redemption will be like through his memories of Cuba - "a tangerine sunrise that never ends, forever hovering over a swirling cloud of parrot fish in the turquoise sea."

Only time will tell, but perhaps one day, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy will be seen not only as one of the best books of 2003, but will take its place alongside Augustine’s Confessions and Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison - remembered as one of the great spiritual autobiographies of the Christian faith.

Mark Ralls is pastor of St. Timothy United Methodist Church in Brevard, N.C. He is co-author of the small-group program Beginnings: An Introduction to Christian Faith.



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