Canadians 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.