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Last Dance in Havana

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Last Dance in Havana.pdf | Language: ENGLISH

In power for forty-four years and counting, Fidel Castro has done everything possible to define Cuba to the world and to itself -- yet not even he has been able to control the thoughts and dreams of his people. Those thoughts and dreams are the basis for what may become a post-Castro Cuba. To more fully understand the future of America's near neighbor, veteran reporter Eugene Robinson knew exactly where to look -- or rather, to listen. In this provocative work, Robinson takes us on a sweaty, pulsating, and lyrical tour of a country on the verge of revolution, using its musicians as a window into its present and future.

Music is the mother's milk of Cuban culture. Cubans express their fondest hopes, their frustrations, even their political dissent, through music. Most Americans think only of salsa and the Buena Vista Social Club when they think of the music of Cuba, yet those styles are but a piece of a broad musical spectrum. Just as the West learned more about China after the Cultural Revolution by watching From Mao to Mozart, so will readers discover the real Cuba -- the living, breathing, dying, yet striving Cuba.

Cuban music is both wildly exuberant and achingly melancholy. A thick stew of African and European elements, it is astoundingly rich and influential to have come from such a tiny island. From rap stars who defy the government in their lyrics to violinists and pianists who attend the world's last Soviet-style conservatory to international pop stars who could make millions abroad yet choose to stay and work for peanuts, Robinson introduces us to unforgettable characters who happily bring him into their homes and backstage discussions.

Despite Castro's attempts to shut down nightclubs, obstruct artists, and subsidize only what he wants, the musicians and dancers of Cuba cannot stop, much less behave. Cubans move through their complicated lives the way they move on the dance floor, dashing and darting and spinning on a dime, seducing joy and fulfillment and next week's supply of food out of a broken system. Then at night they take to the real dance floors and invent fantastic new steps. Last Dance in Havana is heartwrenching, yet ultimately as joyous and hopeful as a rocking club late on a Saturday night.

The old-time Cuban Buena Vista Social Club may have won riches and international fame with its surprise hit recording and documentary film, but life under Fidel Castro remains a struggle for most of the group's compatriots. This is the story of bands that play in Cuba, hoping to score audiences of foreign tourists or the few Cubans who can cough up a $10 cover charge. This account places life on the island against the backdrop of music, dance and racial politics, and shows how culture is political in Cuba—and for the U.S. officials who control entry visas. Robinson, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, commits two sins common to journalists: an overabundance of taxi drivers' opinions and of accounts of himself taking notes. He also has an annoying tic of referring to the "Carnegie Hall of Cuba," to the "Li'l Bow Wow of Cuba," the "Juilliard of the Caribbean," the "Justin Timberlake of...": you get the picture. But Robinson makes up for that by conveying the energy of, and his passion for, the island, its music and the players. He does an excellent job of recounting how Cuba's hip-hop scene has challenged the regime, getting away with what nobody had until one band finally crossed the line. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title. Journalist Robinson contends that in the stilted, sociopolitical environment of Castro's Cuba, the real activism comes from the island's musicians, the true journalists and social commentators. On staff at the Washington Post since 1980, Robinson might easily have written his book to read like a dossier, organized to prove his hypothesis. Instead, it is a lush account of a tumultuous, yet resilient, society. Robinson does a fine job of weaving together Cuba's rhythm and politics, deftly sketching a timeline from the pre-socialist nightclub era of the 1950s to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Castro's renewed dissident crackdown. Simultaneously, he notes the advent of hip-hop, a political grenade showing up on the boom boxes and street corners of Havana. He closes with a reference to a traditional Afro-Cuban hymn that poses the question, "Are we, or are we not?" That, he contends, is a refrain Castro cannot ignore. Terry GloverCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Book details

  • PDF | 288 pages
  • Free Press (June 27, 2007)
  • English
  • 6
  • History

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Review Text

  • By Glenn N. on May 2, 2016

    What a fun book to read, Its a cross between a political paper in Foreign Affairs and a series of articles in Rolling Stone magazine.You'll learn and laugh at the same time. Bravo Gene!

  • By Sabine Atwell on February 11, 2015

    the book was a compilation if views over the years, interesting, but not very incisive,,I enjoyed reading it.

  • By Margo Arrowsmith on February 7, 2010

    This book is amazing. It is a poetic and hardhitting view into the life in today's Cuba. Robinson doesn't miss a thing and is very clear about what is good and the many, many problems and flaws. It is hard hitting journalism from a Pultizer Prize winner with an open view to the magic of the dance which is what truly identifies the people of Cuba.[...]

  • By Cecile Farber on October 7, 2010

    Over a ten year period Robinson visits Cuba several times and reports what he has seen. He admires the Cuban people and their ability to endure what Castro has wrought. Above all, Cubans dance. They dance because it doesn't cost much and because that's all they have to relieve their other deprivations.

  • By kashasu on March 4, 2005

    The book is an easy read and gives a good feel of Havana in the last few years, especially as regards the music scene. Robinson's ability in capturing the atmosphere, more than anything else, earns him points. The often-made claim that music and culture are intimately tied together in Cuba is given substantial anecdotal evidence based on observation and interviews. His knowledge of the Cuban music scene prior to the advent of rap in the late 90's seems sketchy though, and the book could certainly have been helped with more research here.Robinson also scores by pondering the intriguing question of whether music might be the source for a nascent civil society in Cuba, though the idea is not entirely new.His penchant for Afro-Cuban culture and the problematics of racism has its merits, though his presentation of these being the most urgent and potentially boat-rocking social issues lose a little of their thrust when considering that most of his narrative takes place in Havana, and to a lesser extent Santiago and Matanzas, all of them bastions of Afro-Cuban culture. His North American optic is overly obvious at times, and he actually devotes a chapter to US exiles in Cuba.Unfortunately, Robinson is prone to exaggeration and over-simplified evaluations that he serves en passant as offhand remarks. In quite a few instances, what is passed off as factual is actually speculatory, and all in all his arguments seem based largely on personal experience and not on any serious research. His antipathy toward Europeans (portrayed grossly as pot-bellied sex-seekers) also does little for his credibility.Definitely worth a read for those who want to know the temperature on Havana's streets and how to read it, and for such sharp and sweaping comments as this one: "In the land of chronic scarcity, about the only things in perpetual surplus are vanity, ingenuity, and time."

  • By Jonathan Miller on October 16, 2004

    Eugene Robinson is a fine journalist who writes with style and confidence. His reportage is highly original. He completely avoids the well-worn path of hoary political analysis and gets out onto the streets and into the clubs of Cuba to produce a fascinating account of modern Cuba at the end of the Castro era. Some of the passages in this book really resonate - travel writing of a high order that illuminates a big picture by reference to the everyday culture of a people who have learned to escape from their oppression by means of the language of music. Arriba Eugene Robinson! This book really does add to the sum of collective knowledge about Cuba.

  • By Love to Read on October 22, 2004

    I thought this was a very well done book....both about the music scene and the changes in life in Cuba in the past few years. Clearly Mr. Robinson knows his subject, and writes beautifully. It took me back to the clubs and streets and to the people whom he obviously cares about. Well worth the time.

  • By S. Waters on September 15, 2004

    Goodness! Get off the man's back and give up the grudge. Fidel is still trying to run a country. You don't like it? Don't go! Very simple.


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