Maybe you’ve been dreaming of visiting Cuba since the country took home seven gold boxing medals at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Or perhaps Cuba landed on your radar after learning about innovative biotech products developed and produced on the island including Heberprot-P. Then again, your interest may have been piqued by Cuba’s rich cultural heritage, which gave the world geniuses like Wilfredo Lam, José Lezama Lima, Arsenio Rodríguez, Ernesto Lecuona, and Los Van Van.
No matter how Cuba succeeded in intriguing, now that you’re getting ready to travel there to see the reality for yourself, a little pre-trip research into what makes the island tick will serve you well. The literature by and about Cubans is voluminous. Everything from socio-political analysis to travelogues can provide insight into this singular nation and help you better understand the novel and revolutionary policies and practices at work.
In the spirit of helping others gain insight into Cuba, I’ve put together a bibliography – a pre-trip suggested reading list, if you will – which can aid in orienting visitors to Cuban history, context, and idiosyncrasies. Happy reading!
Anything by Jose Martí
Poet, independence architect, journalist, author, and orator, José Martí is known as the ‘apostle of Cuba’ and is beloved by Cubans across the globe. To understand how deep the country’s commitment to sovereignty, culture, and solidarity runs, Martí is indispensable. A good place to start is with his Selected Writings (Penguin Classics, 2002), followed by his timeless children’s book (still in print and read in Cuba today), Edad de Oro. To learn about the man and his achievements, check out Jose Marti: An Introduction, by Oscar Montero.
Anything by Louis A Pérez, Jr
Known for being an exhaustive researcher (his On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality and Culture runs to 505 pages, with another 70 of appendices and notes), Louis Pérez is perhaps one of the most knowledgeable and prolific researchers into the Cuban psyche. Pérez’ work is no light reading and you’ll be forgiven if you give up two-thirds of the way through, but to get an in-depth analysis of anything from suicide in Cuba to the inextricable relationship between the island and its neighbor to the north, this is your go-to author. Two good places to start include: Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy and Cuba: Between Reform & Revolution.
A highly-readable account by veteran Cuban traveler Rosa Jordan, this brand new book is part guide, part history lesson, and gives an unvarnished look into contemporary Cuba. Jordan has been traveling the length and breadth of the island – by car, bus, and bike – for decades and her perspective, developed in-country, over time, provides added value to this travelogue.
Hot off the presses, this new book presents a reader-friendly run-down of the myths and misinformation running rampant about Cuba, while setting the record straight by documenting achievements of the government and society since 1959. The book opens with an overview of important figures in Cuban history from Hatuey and Henry Reeve, to Martí and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and has extraordinarily helpful references for further research throughout.
Edited by the well-traveled and always observant author Tom Miller, this book collects over three dozen chronicles of travel through Cuban landscapes – physical, spiritual and intellectual. Not all are crafted the same, obviously, but contributions from insightful travel writer Pico Iyer; Eduardo Galeano, one of the world’s greatest chroniclers of life and the human condition; prolific and respected author James Michener; and Cuban-born Ruth Behar who succeeds in raising goose bumps in half a dozen pages, are worth the $19.95 cover price. Miller is also the author of the widely read book Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels Through Castro’s Cuba, documenting his visits to the island in the early 1990s.
Conner Gorry is Senior Editor at MEDICC Review and author of the Havana Good Time app, available for iPhone/Pad and Android. She blogs at Here is Havana and has two Cuba stories in the anthology Best Travel Writing 2012. Conner is also the brainchild of Cuba Libro, the island’s first English-language café and bookstore.