‘Havana: A Subtropical Delirium ‘ by Mark Kurlansky


2017, 229 p. & notes

I’ve read this book twice within six weeks. First I read it before leaving for my trip to Cuba, vowing that I’d write up my review in South America with all the free time at night I anticipated.  Well, most of the free time was spent blogging on my little phone, so the review wasn’t written. Then I borrowed it again a couple of days ago, to refresh my memory before writing this review and I was immediately drawn into a second reading, recognizing things and places that I’d seen and kicking myself for the things I’d missed.

Mark Kurlansky is an American writer who has spent over thirty years visiting Cuba, and so he writes from an American, rather than Cuban perspective. He is a prolific author, with many of his non-fiction works centring on an object like Cod, Salt or Oysters, as well as the histories of the Basques, European Jewry or the effect of baseball on San Pedro de Macoris.  In this book, he writes the history of Havana with affection, but you’re always aware that it’s an outsider’s perspective.  It’s a very literary history, with many allusions to Hemingway, Marti and other more contemporary Cuban authors. The author is aware that these works might not be familiar to his readers, and so he translates his quotations and gives sufficient context to make them meaningful. The book meanders its way through a cornucopia of themes in a basically chronological fashion, although the revolution itself is not described in much detail.  It is illustrated with 19th century woodcuts from magazines, and Kurlansky lets his words rather than images do the describing.

I was a little disappointed in the ending, which trailed off into a discussion of baseball, but having now seen the crowded baseball bleachers at a local small-town match, I have a better understanding of the Cuban love for the game.

That criticism aside, I really enjoyed this book, both before visiting Cuba and even more afterwards. In fact, I think that I inadvertently stumbled on the very best way to read it.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library (although if you’re visiting Cuba, why not buy the e-book for $12.50 AUD and take it with you)

Rating: 8.5/10

3 responses to “‘Havana: A Subtropical Delirium ‘ by Mark Kurlansky

  1. On my one overseas trip I really enjoyed the experience of reading geographically relevant books, Maigret in Paris, Charmian Clift on Hydra!

  2. I have this on my TBR pile – sadly it wasn’t yet published when I went to Cuba in January, but I did read Green’s Our Man in Havana while I was there.

    I hope you put up a few Cuba blog posts do I can relive the experience 🙂

  3. Actually, you can see the whole trip in all its glory at my other blog https://landofincreasingsunshine.wordpress.com/
    The order of the posts is a bit mucked up because I had to load up a lot at one time when I found internet access (as you would know from your trip). But, follow the ‘Day’ headings and you’ll make sense of it.

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