Around the World in 12 Books, #5 Cuba

TitleFinding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus
Author: Mirta Ojito
Length: 278 pages
ISBN: 9781594200410
Published in: 2005
Genre: non-fiction (memoir)
Rating: 3/5
Challenges/ResolutionsAround the World in 12 Books; Personal Collection Resolution

Summary: Mirta Ojito grew up in Castro’s Cuba, taught by her parents that this wasn’t the best life for her. Ever since she could remember, it had been the plan to get out of Cuba. But as the time to leave for the United States draws near, the country is in even more turmoil than ever, and Mirta is torn between what she’s always been told by the government and what she’s always been told by her parents.

My Thoughts: I did enjoy how this story was told. As non-fiction, there was a lot of information presented in the book. Hardly a third of the book could have been devoted to Ojito’s own experiences–she supplemented her story with various other accounts of experiences during 1960s-1970s Cuba. While I do write in a diary daily, I highly doubt it would ever make a good memoir because it typically includes nothing about anything outside my immediate small world. So I’m glad that Ojito took more into account when writing her memoir.

What did you learn about the country’s culture, history etc. from reading this book? Any new insights, any shifts in your perception, or did it align with what you knew/understood already?

I learned a lot about Castro’s Cuba. I haven’t ever studied Cuba, and I have to admit that I didn’t even know that Cuba is still a communist country. I knew Fidel Castro was no longer the leader of the country. But I hadn’t realized that, despite the end of the Cold War and the fall of many former communist governments, there was still communism. Especially so close to the US. Not that it’s any of our business to butt in to other country’s politics, but it surprised me that the US hasn’t butted-in where it wasn’t welcome and reestablished a free republic, as it likes to do 😕

There was one thing in particular about which I had no clue:

In January 1966, he [Ojito’s uncle] and Tere married and moved to a neighborhood to the east of Havana. Two months later they applied for visas to the United States. When my uncle told his supervisors at work of his intention to leave the country, he was fired…Two years later…my uncle received a telegram from the local police precinct ordering him to show up at the station with his bags packed. He was sent to a camp, one of dozens that dotted the island, to work on a collective farm as punishment for wanting to leave Cuba. (p166)

I guess I should have realized that camps like that existed–I knew that the Soviet Union had collective farms for similar punishments. But that’s just like me, I just didn’t think twice about other communist countries being similar to the Soviet Union in that respect.

How did land, geography, flora and fauna feature in the book? Did it have a distinct feel that helped you visualise and made you feel like you were there, or was the story more focused on plot?

I honestly don’t think that a great picture was painted of the story. There wasn’t a whole lot of description about the land, nor of the people. Many people were talked about, but not much was said of how they looked. The story wasn’t focused so much on plot, because it wasn’t that sort of story–but it definitely was focused on peoples’ anecdotes. Facts and figures weren’t included much, which I am very grateful for.

One description I did like, though, was this:

…after two decades most Cubans had become adept at hiding their true feelings and motivations. We lived submerged in a world of shadows. Everyone wore a mask in public, sometimes even at home, and you never really knew who your friends were. You had to listen and say little, go with the flow, lest the friend turn out to be the enemy who could ruin your life. The smallest of disagreements, the most trivial of conversations, the slightest wavering of thought could be fodder for anyone intent on advancing his career by destroying someone else’s. (p124)

I think that is an excellent summary of how Ojito described life in Cuba.

Did the story make you want to visit/revisit the country, or explore it in a new way if you live there already; did it make you want to read more stories set in the country?

There is no reason in the past that I had thought against visiting Cuba. I hadn’t ever been too drawn to it, unless I could time travel as well and go there before all the political turmoil in the mid-1900s. I think Cuba somewhat freshly free of Spain would be really interesting. If anything, this book made me less inclined to visit Cuba–that’s not to say I wouldn’t ever go, but it doesn’t seem like, from the book, there’s much reason to go.

On another note, I loved the way Ojito ended the book. I have a feeling that I will never be an exile, so it was really interesting to get that sort of perspective.

Exile, like longing, is a way of life, much like a chronic, by not terminal, disease with capricious symptoms: an avowed preference for a certain shade of blue–the color of my old house, I realized once I stood in front of it again–and a formerly inexplicable, almost childish delight at the way the light filters through the fiery blossoms of some South Florida poinciana trees–just as it does in the trees that still shade my old neighborhood, even if I’m no longer there to see them.(p278)

One thought on “Around the World in 12 Books, #5 Cuba

  1. It’s interesting to read about punishment camps. My book for this month (written by an American) noted that, at certain times when Cubans stormed an embassy, for example, seeking help in getting out, the Cuban government actually allowed for mass exoduses. Not in the 60s though I don’t think, but the 80s or 90s. Wish I’d marked the page now. My general impression from reading one book is that it’s an immensely complicated country and culture. I would like to visit it, but you’d also be such prey. (A friend went last year, or maybe it was the year before, on holiday and loved it; it’s a bit more of a common destination for Canadians than Americans I think?)

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