Waiting for Snow in Havana
Confessions of a Cuban Boy
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That childhood, until his world changes, is as joyous and troubled as any other -- but with exotic differences. Lizards roam the house and grounds. Fights aren't waged with snowballs but with breadfruit. The rich are outlandishly rich, like the eight-year-old son of a sugar baron who has a real miniature race car, or the neighbor with a private animal garden, complete with tiger. All this is bathed in sunlight and shades of turquoise and tangerine: the island of Cuba, says one of the stern monks at Carlos's school, might have been the original Paradise -- and it is tempting to believe.
His father is a municipal judge and an obsessive collector of art and antiques, convinced that in a past life he was Louis XVI and that his wife was Marie Antoinette. His mother looks to the future; conceived on a transatlantic liner bound for Cuba from Spain, she wants her children to be modern, which means embracing all things American. His older brother electrocutes lizards. Surrounded by eccentrics, in a home crammed with portraits of Jesus that speak to him in dreams and nightmares, Carlos searches for secret proofs of the existence of God.
Then, in January 1959, President Batista is suddenly gone, a cigar-smoking guerrilla named Castro has taken his place, and Christmas is canceled. The echo of firing squads is everywhere. At the Aquarium of the Revolution, sharks multiply in a swimming pool. And one by one, the author's schoolmates begin to disappear -- spirited away to the United States. Carlos will end up there himself, alone, never to see his father again.
Narrated with the urgency of a confession, Waiting for Snow in Havana is both an exorcism and an ode to a paradise lost. More than that, it captures the terrible beauty of those times in our lives when we are certain we have died -- and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.
Read an Excerpt
The world changed while I slept, and much to my surprise, no one had consulted me. That's how it would always be from that day forward. Of course, that's the way it had been all along. I just didn't know it until that morning. Surprise upon surprise: some good, some evil, most somewhere in between. And always without my consent.
I was barely eight years old, and I had spent hours dreaming of childish things, as children do. My father, who vividly remembered his prior incarnation as King Louis XVI of France, probably dreamt of costume balls, mobs, and guillotines. My mother, who had no memory of having... see more
Reading Group Guide
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? see more