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Last Dance in Havana
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In power for forty-four years and counting, Fidel Castro has done everything possible to define Cuba to the world and to itself -- yet not even he has been able to control the thoughts and dreams of his people. Those thoughts and dreams are the basis for what may become a post-Castro Cuba. To more fully understand the future of America's near neighbor, veteran reporter Eugene Robinson knew exactly where to look -- or rather, to listen. In this provocative work, Robinson takes us on a sweaty, pulsating, and lyrical tour of a country on the verge of revolution, using its musicians as a window into its present and future. Music is the mother's milk of Cuban culture. Cubans express their fondest hopes, their frustrations, even their political dissent, through music. Most Americans think only of salsa and the "Buena Vista Social Club" when they think of the music of Cuba, yet those styles are but a piece of a broad musical spectrum. Just as the West learned more about China after the Cultural Revolution by watching "From Mao to Mozart, " so will readers discover the real Cuba -- the living, breathing, dying, yet striving Cuba. Cuban music is both wildly exuberant and achingly melancholy. A thick stew of African and European elements, it is astoundingly rich and influential to have come from such a tiny island. From rap stars who defy the government in their lyrics to violinists and pianists who attend the world's last Soviet-style conservatory to international pop stars who could make millions abroad yet choose to stay and work for peanuts, Robinson introduces us to unforgettable characters who happily bring him into their homes and backstage discussions. Despite Castro's attempts to shut down nightclubs, obstruct artists, and subsidize only what he wants, the musicians and dancers of Cuba cannot stop, much less behave. Cubans move through their complicated lives the way they move on the dance floor, dashing and darting and spinning on a dime, seducing joy and fulfillment and next week's supply of food out of a broken system. Then at night they take to the real dance floors and invent fantastic new steps. "Last Dance in Havana" is heartwrenching, yet ultimately as joyous and hopeful as a rocking club late on a Saturday night.
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The old-time Cuban Buena Vista Social Club may have won riches and international fame with its surprise hit recording and documentary film, but life under Fidel Castro remains a struggle for most of the group's compatriots. This is the story of bands that play in Cuba, hoping to score audiences of foreign tourists or the few Cubans who can cough up a $10 cover charge. This account places life on the island against the backdrop of music, dance and racial politics, and shows how culture is political in Cuba-and for the U.S. officials who control entry visas. Robinson, an assistant managing editor at the Washington Post, commits two sins common to journalists: an overabundance of taxi drivers' opinions and of accounts of himself taking notes. He also has an annoying tic of referring to the "Carnegie Hall of Cuba," to the "Li'l Bow Wow of Cuba," the "Juilliard of the Caribbean," the "Justin Timberlake of...": you get the picture. But Robinson makes up for that by conveying the energy of, and his passion for, the island, its music and the players. He does an excellent job of recounting how Cuba's hip-hop scene has challenged the regime, getting away with what nobody had until one band finally crossed the line. Agent, Rafe Sagalyn. (July 12) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Age will soon accomplish what the anti-Castro movements have failed to do in Castro's nearly 45 years in power-effect a regime change. The future of Cuba is the backdrop for this fascinating and unusual look inside Cuban life and culture by Robinson (Washington Post). As he roams Havana and interviews musicians, politicians, and ordinary people, Robinson finds lingering appreciation for Castro's triumphs, disgust at the failures of the revolution, and great concern about what will happen after Castro is gone. He also finds some hope beneath the surface, in what he calls the cultural defiance of hip-hop music in the small clubs of Havana. The richest writing here comes from reporting on the importance of music and dance in Cuban life. Robinson even finds some admirable traits in Castro, despite years of fear and repression: "Fidel's brilliance is that...he leads and seduces not just with skill but with emotion as well." A useful complement to such recent books as Volker Skierka's Fidel Castro: A Biography, this book is recommended for all libraries.-Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

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