Even though I do not get to choose books for next year’s book club, this is my top pick for American Housewives in Brazil. Isadora Tattlin (not her real name) writes about living in Havana for four school years during the late 1990’s. I do not think she thought Fidel would be alive in 2007 (is he really?) and am guessing not much has changed in the last decade so it could be considered up-to-date, even though it was published 5 years ago.
I bought the book because of the title and because I wanted to pick apart the format of her memoir, not because I was dying to read about Cuba. Before living in Mexico City, I did not know that the US had an “Interests Section” in Cuba which is a vague US presence in Havana, not an embassy, not a consulate, more of a governmental monitoring group if I understand it correctly. My friend (and she was not American) lived in Havana at the same time as the author and made regular trips to Miami in the Tupelov aircrafts described in the book just to eat, protein especially. Rice, beans, and rum were the standard fare for her and her husband in Havana. We also have a dear friend who was the US State Department representative who told Fidel that the US was cutting off diplomatic relations with Cuba. Living in Santiago de Cuba in the early 1960’s, his eight month’s pregnant wife had to ford a river in a US Army Jeep to give birth to her baby at Gitmo. Lastly, at the church we attended in Mexico, one of the self-professed dowagers of the church was Miss Cuba in the late 1950’s (she might have been a runner up) and she used to tell me about how beautiful Cuba was; she did not want to return because she did not want to see her family’ s home in shambles.
That is the sum total of what I knew about Cuba before reading the book. It is a must read for every ex-pat, especially those living in Latin America. Isadora’s shopping list to move to Cuba from Bangladesh is mindboggling, even for this hardened shopper. I identified with her love of snack size Ziploc bags, among many other things. My only issue with the book is her blaming a lost economic opportunity for Cubans on Monica Lewinsky (if she’d included Bill I would have been fine with it). From now on, when I think about living without certain food items in China I am going to remember Isadora paying $17 for a crappy head of lettuce. Then again, that might be me.