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Learning to Die in Miami

Learning to Die in Miami

Confessions of a Refugee Boy

  • reading group guide
In his 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana, Carlos Eire narrated his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life in Miami in 1962. It would be years before he would see his mother again. He would never again see his beloved father.

Learning to Die in Miami opens as the plane lands and Carlos faces, with trepidation and excitement, his new life. He quickly realizes that in order for his new American self to emerge, his Cuban self must “die.” And so, with great enterprise and purpose, he begins his journey.

We follow Carlos as he adjusts to life in his new home. Faced with learning English, attending American schools, and an uncertain future, young Carlos confronts the age-old immigrant’s plight: being surrounded by American bounty, but not able to partake right away. The abundance America has to offer excites him and, regardless of how grim his living situation becomes, he eagerly forges ahead with his own personal assimilation program, shedding the vestiges of his old life almost immediately, even changing his name to Charles. Cuba becomes a remote and vague idea in the back of his mind, something he used to know well, but now it “had ceased to be part of the world.”

But as Carlos comes to grips with his strange surroundings, he must also struggle with everyday issues of growing up. His constant movement between foster homes and the eventual realization that his parents are far away in Cuba bring on an acute awareness that his life has irrevocably changed. Flashing back and forth between past and future, we watch as Carlos balances the divide between his past and present homes and finds his way in this strange new world, one that seems to hold the exhilarating promise of infinite possibilities and one that he will eventually claim as his own.

An exorcism and an ode, Learning to Die in Miami is a celebration of renewal—of those times when we’re certain we have died and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.
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  • Free Press | 
  • 336 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439181911 | 
  • June 2011
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Hear the confessions of a refugee boy from Carlos Eire

Following the National-Book-Award-winning Waiting for Snow in Havana, this is the ongoing memoir of exile and adolescent struggle in a new land.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Learning to Die in Miami includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Carlos Eire. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


INTRODUCTION


In Learning to Die in Miami, Carlos Eire explores the consequences associated with the emergence of a new American identity at the expense of the “death” of his old Cuban self during the Cuban Revolution. Along the way, Carlos must learn to navigate the differences between his past and present lives—redefining his relationship with his distant parents, mastering a new language, and adopting foreign customs and traditions. As Carlos is plagued by intense bouts of loneliness and abandonment while struggling to find his footing in his new homeland, readers cannot help but be moved by Eire’s compelling first-person account of immigration in America. Learning to Die in Miami is a universal story of not only the pain of letting go, but also the rewards it ultimately brings.


TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. Re-read the poem by Emily Dickinson at the beginning of the book: “Death is a dialogue between/The spirit and the dust…An over
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About the Author

Carlos Eire
Jerry Bauer

Carlos Eire

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. 

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