In This Review

The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times
The Cubans: Ordinary Lives in Extraordinary Times
By Anthony DePalma
368 pp, Viking, 2020

In this beautifully crafted work of reportage, the veteran journalist DePalma dives into Guanabacoa, a historic, decaying neighborhood of Havana, and into the lives of its inhabitants. Among the lead characters is Caridad Limonta, a brilliant executive who abandons state-owned enterprises to apply her management skills in the emerging private sector. Arturo Montoto, an established conceptual artist, constructs ironic monumental sculptures, including a huge black baseball that evokes the decline of professional sports in Cuba. DePalma also meets Jorge García, an émigré living in Miami, who remains deeply embittered by the deaths in 1994 of family members who drowned trying to flee Cuba in a tugboat. Through such stories, DePalma takes the reader on a tour of the glorious triumphs and ardent idealism of the early days of the Cuban Revolution, the dark years of the post-Soviet economic collapse, the revived hopes occasioned by the thaw of U.S.-Cuban relations under U.S. President Barack Obama, and now the seemingly endless days of deprivation. As daily life becomes increasingly difficult in Cuba, the distance grows between the privileged elites in their white Ladas and the impoverished masses on their bicycles. But as Limonta explains, cubanidad, or “Cubanness,” retains its richness: that blend of outsize exceptionalism, intense passions, and inextinguishable love.