The Other Side of Paradise by Julia Cooke

other-side-of-paradiseCanadians love Cuba. For many, it is the sun filled destination of choice. We like it for many reasons: the people, the beautiful beaches, great music and of course the absence of Americans (sorry American friends). We feel like it is our playground. But few Canadians make it past the resort gates. The Cuba we know and love has absolutely no relation to the Cuba that exists for its inhabitants. And that is why The Other Side of Paradise by Julia Cooke is such a wonderful and engrossing book.

The Other Side of Paradise is Cooke’s journalistic exploration of the everyday lives of normal Cubans living in Havana. Each chapter follows the story of an individual and is absolutely engrossing. Cooke looks at teens, artists, families and a prostitute as they navigate the vagaries of life in Cuba after the fall of the USSR. She focuses on the last generation to be raised under Castro and the first generation able to imagine life without him. Their view is very outward looking, because that’s where they’s like to be.

I was fascinated about everything I learned from The Other Side of Paradise. I have been to Cuba many times, but always to resorts. I’ve tried to talk to the staff the get a picture of their lives outside of their long working hours, but nothing has portrayed what life is like in Cuba more vividly than this book.

Who would like this book? The Other Side of Paradise is a very accessible and easy reading book that is both anthropological and journalistic. It is a must read for anyone interested in how people in other parts of the world live. I think anyone going to Cuba who has an interest in the world that surrounds the beautiful beaches would enjoy it. Cooke’s writing style is very clear and without pretension. The Other Side of Paradise would also make a good companion read to My Lost Cuba by Celso Gonzales-Falla, which i reviewed in August. My Lost Cuba is a work of fiction dealing with the years leading up to Cuba, but both books give valuable background to Cuban history.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.


  1. I agree with you that I think many people have very little idea of what real life in Cuba is all about – it is either idealized, or vilified, or just ignored. I think this happens for quite a few resort areas of Central and South America, but it seems especially true of Cuba. I would love to learn more about it – thank you for the recommendation!

  2. I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba because of Hemingway, I’ve resigned myself to never actually getting there. I think Mexico is similar in a lot of ways, people don’t know what it’s really like outside of the resorts. I think of the two you’ve talked about, I’d really like to check out My Lost Cuba.

  3. Ha! I had know idea that Cuba was a vacation destination for Canadians or that part of the appeal is that I can’t go there. Love it! I think Americans would like this book, too, precisely for the reason that it feels like the most off-limits place on earth even though it’s so very close.

  4. Both books sound like they would be a great addition to our website. You are right, it is interesting to get behind the tourist facade – we found Slow Train To Guantanamo a good starter travelogue. Will definitely put these on our TBR pile!

  5. This looks really fascinating. I always try to talk to the staff when I cruise because the idea of working on a cruise ship seems so harrowing to me. I agree with Rory that Mexico, Jamaica, and much of the Caribbean have similar situations.

    ONE DAY THE RIDICULOUS TRADE EMBARGO WILL BE LIFTED! 🙂 (Seriously, it makes no sense.)

    Thanks for linking up with Spread the Love!

  6. Pingback: Around the World in 12 Books Challenge – April Roundup | Giraffe Days

  7. Pingback: Top Ten Tuesday: The Best of 2014 (so far) | 52 books or bust

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