It is not hard to understand why Carlos Eire's memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana won the 2003 National Book Award for nonfiction. It is beautifully written in a poetic style that I cannot compare to anyone else's. His boyhood memories come alive with perfectly balanced doses of hilarity and poignancy and they are fascinating.
Carlos Eire was born in Havana in 1950 and left in 1962, one of fourteen hundred children who arrived in the United States without their parents, airlifted out of Fidel Castro's Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan. Eire and his brother were reunited with their mother three years later, but never saw their father again.
This memoir describes the tropical paradise that was the Havana of his childhood, the games he and his friends liked to play, the movie theaters, the ocean, the pools. Oh, and the lizards. Eire had a special fear and hatred for the lizards. Anyway, when Castro took over, absolutely everything about their lives was changed. Their entire culture was erased in a way that is hard to imagine, and it happened very, very quickly.
This is not a work of fiction.
But the author would like it to be.
We improve when we become fiction,
each and every one of us,
and when the past becomes a novel our memories are sharpened.
Memory is the most potent truth.
Show me history untouched by memories
and you show me lies.
Show me lies not based on memories and you show me the worst lies of all.
If all the characters in this book are fictional, none of them knows it yet.
All resemblances to actual persons
were preordained before the creation of the world.
It matters little that the names don't always match.
All the incidents and dialogue come straight from God's imagination.
As does the author himself.
And the reader.
Still, all of us are responsible for our own actions.
Not even Fidel is exempt from all this.
Nor Che, nor his chauffeurs, nor his mansion.
Nor the many Cubans who soiled their pants
before they were shot to death.
Nor the fourteen thousand children who flew away from their parents.
Nor the love and desperation that caused them to fly.
There is so much to say about this memoir, but it's best if you read it yourself. Enjoy!