Swearing portraits, firecrackers, haunting blue-eyed Jesus, evil lizards, Italian Jesuits and Castro all add vibrancy and humor to Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana. Eire’s memoir about his childhood in revolution crazed Cuba is a great blend of hindsight, older-self reflection and raw child anecdotes. When I first picked up Waiting for Snow in Havana I expected a historical autobiography about Operation Pedro Pan that airlifted 14,000 children out of Cuba and to the United States. Instead, I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover Eire’s memoir read like fiction. From the first pages in which Eire introduces his parents as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the vivid imagery and lively language captures a reader.
In the first parts of the book humor and light heartedness abound, with only a distant hint of something ominous in the future. Between car surfing monstrous waves with Louis XVI, sex-ed classes at his Catholic all-boys school, and exploding firecrackers, it seems that Carlos enjoyed a carefree, ideal childhood on an island referred to as Eden by the adults. Yet, Eire never lets the reader get too comfortable in his Eden as he describes distant explosions, revolutionary plots, and Batista’s regime. Eire does such a great job of describing the Cuban revolution from a child’s perspective that when Batista is overthrown the book reads as if life continued as normal…for a little while at least.
One of the aspects of Waiting for Snow in Havana that I enjoyed the most is the Christian and philosophical theme. Having attended a Catholic school and as a professor of history and religious studies at Yale, Carlos Eire truly makes the book unique to his interests. I am probably partial to this aspect of the book simply because I am a religious studies major and was able to understand and appreciate religious references, such as Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God. Also, through religious comparison Eire is able to adeptly express his bitterness for a lost childhood and grasp at the humor of a country going through revolution.
“Doomsday really did arrive that year, when I was in the third grade. And the judge sported a beard all right, just as in Catholic iconography. But the rest was all wrong. He also dressed in olive-green fatigues, sported cool-looking tortoiseshell eyewear, smoked large Cuban cigars, and rode a Sherman tank. Surprise!”
Even if your interest in religion differs from Carlos Eire’s, his writing, which is at time poetic and feels like a conversation with the reader, will keep you enthralled. Waiting for Snow in Havana is a wonderful account of a part of history and an exodus of children, about which many are not aware. I believe this book, while dealing with a heavy topic, is a great summer read – especially if you live in a place where you have your own lizard anecdotes. So, go out and pick up Carlos Eire’s book or download it to your ereader, you won’t be sorry.