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Waiting for Snow in Havana

Confessions of a Cuban Boy

“Have mercy on me, Lord, I am Cuban.” In 1962, Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Havana—exiled from his family, his country, and his own childhood by Fidel Castro’s revolution. Winner of the National Book Award, this stunning memoir is a vibrant and evocative look at Latin America from a child’s unforgettable experience.

Waiting for Snow in Havana is both an exorcism and an ode to a paradise lost. For the Cuba of Carlos’s youth—with its lizards and turquoise seas and sun-drenched siestas—becomes an island of condemnation once a cigar-smoking guerrilla named Fidel Castro ousts President Batista on January 1, 1959. Suddenly the music in the streets sounds like gunfire. Christmas is made illegal, political dissent leads to imprisonment, and too many of Carlos’s friends are leaving Cuba for a place as far away and unthinkable as the United States. Carlos will end up there, too, and fulfill his mother’s dreams by becoming a modern American man—even if his soul remains in the country he left behind.

Narrated with the urgency of a confession, Waiting for Snow in Havana is a eulogy for a native land and a loving testament to the collective spirit of Cubans everywhere.

WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA by Carlos Eire
Reader's Group Guide
1. Early on, we encounter the author's loss of innocence, as political tensions begin to explode in violence and threaten the almost idyllic world of the Havana elite that Eire inhabits. But even in that idyll, as the author takes part in normal childhood exploits, there is a sense of pleasure and danger resting hand in hand -- a powerful concoction. How do these lessons of Eire's early youth serve him during the dramatic changes of his young adulthood?
2. How does memory work in Eire's story? How do memories of pleasure and of danger live in him? Do they reconcile each other, or does one trump the other in the end?
3. History -- particularly the violence of the past -- plays a big part in Eire's parents' imaginations and in how they choose to live. They refer to themselves as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and their house is full of objects that project a powerful, almost living sense of Christ's suffering. Then modern violence disrupts the family. How do they both use the lessons of Christ and their "past lives" or alter egos to act in the present crisis?
4. Eire uses lizards to embody "perfect metaphors" in his memoir. Lizards are often passive, most often despised, and always pitiful victims of others' misguided exercises of power. And yet it is a species of great resilience, powerful in its presence in Cuban lives. Who and what is the lizard ultimately in Eire's imagination?
5. Some readers will understand this as a tale of the innocent victim (because Eire is a child), of a necessary, however flawed, stake at justice for the victims of the Batista regime and of colonialism, as many Black Cubans are the very near descendants of slaves. Eire speaks of how his family profited directly from others' suffering. And then the tables are turned. How do you reconcile the grievances of both groups? Is the author able to transcend his sense of personal rage? How might writing be his own intimate stake at justice?
6. Justice is something passionately sought by many in his family: by his aunt who is a consummate activist; by his father, the judge and Louis XVI incarnate; by his uncle who offers an ultimate insult in the face of the firing squad. How do they inform Eire's struggle?
7. How do you piece together Eire's deep and complicated sense of rage for his father, who is symbolized by and is a symbol for his fatherland?
8. Eire is keenly aware of race and color. But he does not have a true understanding of the psychological and economic costs of racial/ethnic bigotry and oppression until he is on American soil, where he becomes poor and a "Spic." What does he do with this new understanding?
9. Eire reveals his anger and contempt for his adopted brother Ernesto who, though it is somewhat cryptically relayed, has sexually molested him. He says that the revelation of this abuse causes his father to turn against him, in favor of Ernesto. These events coincide with Castro's revolution and his sense of violation by his fatherland. This is followed by his father's more ultimate act -- feverishly collecting personal treasures -- artifacts -- as he passively allows his sons to be swept away from him. It is a struggle that is resonant with Biblical events and almost Biblical in proportion. What do you make of this difficulty of reconciling such deep and inseparable betrayals?
10. Eire talks about his parents' different legacies: his mother is the daughter of Spanish émigrés, conceived on their transatlantic passage, while his father's family has been rooted in Cuba for many generations. His mother's impulse is to be forward-looking, privileging the modern, and, as its symbol, the American. His father "favored the past, fought against the present, ignored the future." How do these impulses play out in the family's ultimate dissolution?
11. The author struggles with the past, seeking understanding in Biblical ideas, and in the idea he introduces on p. 64 -- that conflict and journey are inevitable and are sparks of love. In the end, do you feel he is to achieve this reconciliation? What lessons do we learn that may help us in our own struggles to come to terms with the tragedies in our own lives?
Jerry Bauer

Carlos Eire was born in Havana in 1950 and left his homeland in 1962, one of fourteen thousand unaccompanied children airlifted out of Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan. After living in a series of foster homes, he was reunited with his mother in Chicago in 1965. Eire earned his PhD at Yale University in 1979 and is now the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with his wife, Jane, and their three children. 

Los Angeles Times The most accomplished literary expression of exile sensibility to have appeared to date. What is powerful and lasting about the book is Eire's evocation of childhood and his extraordinary literary ability.

The Boston Globe Eire is gifted with what might be called lyric precision -- a knack for grasping the life of a moment through its sensuous particulars....Vigorously written and alive.

The Washington Post Bursting with wonderful details and images and populated by characters so well described that they seem to be sitting next to you on the couch.

The Miami Herald A wistful glimpse of a shattered world.

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