Having been born in 1973 and grown up in Australia, I’ve never really known that much about Cuba. From film and television I knew that smoking Cuban cigars was naughty because the U.S. had a trade embargo with them and any country that wanted to be friends with the U.S. respected that. From the same sources, I knew that there were many Cubans in Florida and that the media reported them to be mostly rabidly anti-Castro. I knew that people routinely risked the seas to escape from Cuba in a similar way that my best friend in high school had escaped from Communist Poland. But at the same time I was vaguely aware that perhaps once Castro had been a man of more democratic principles, loved by the Cubans before they came to fear that they may disappear at night never to be heard from again. After all, activists both trendy and genuine wore T-shirts with Castro’s once-partner’s face on it and Streisand listed Guevara as one of her father figures in the live version of "Poppa can you hear me" alongside Gandhi. The implication was that, as in so many places around the world, the U.S. had had some role to play in the making of their monster to the South.
The focus of Havana Nocturne is the mob in Cuba and their attempt to create their ultimate haven, within easy reach of everything that was good in America and without any thought for the Cuban people living in fear and poverty outside their Casino walls. T. J. English expertly, and necessarily, weaves the stories of the mob and the revolution together to create a thoroughly engrossing read that connects the dots so deliberately left unconnected for so many years. He leaves aside the demonization of any one of his true characters and, without pulling any punches, shows us flawed human beings and gives us greed, revenge and human failing as the ultimate culprits in the mess that is Cuba.
I’ll feel a lot more educated about the whole issue now as the U.S. begins to deal with a post-Castro Cuba. Whether this tiny country can recover from their decades of corruption, trade sanctions and U.S. meddling will be a test with international relevance.
*It was Jon Stewart’s interview with T.J. English on The Daily Show that alerted me to this wonderful read – you can enjoy it below.