September 12, 2006

Knowing Cuba through Books

An article published in the November 1946 issue of Hispania (Vol. 29, No. 4) looks at books that would assist anyone wishing to know more about Cuba.

Author John T. Reid, who was once stationed as an officer at the American Embassy in Havana, can be commended for seeking Cuban sources, which may be rare today.

Reid asked a group of friends (including Manuel Grau, Raimundo Lazo, Fernando Ortíz, José María Chacón y Calvo, Herminio Portell Vilá, Enrique José Varona and others) for their picks, and these picks are included in the article. Many or most of the books mentioned are still relevant today, and some have been translated into English, though not nearly enough of them.

Included in this 60-year-old list is “José Martí, el Apóstol” by Jorge Mañach, described in Reid’s article as “the best biography of the greatest Cuban.” (This seems rather subjective for a scholarly journal. Is Martí the greatest Cuban? Is he greater than Maceo? Is he greater than Felix Varela or even Teofilo Stevenson? ) He adds that “no one can understand Cuba without knowing Martí and the Cubans’ almost religious reverence for him.” That I can fully agree with. Luckily, Mañach’s book is now available in English, although it may not be easy to find.

Another title from the list also available in English is Fernando Ortiz’ “Contrapunteo Cubano del tabaco y el azucar.” (In English, the book is titled “Cuban Counterpoint: Tobacco and Sugar,” from publisher Alfred A. Knopf) I’d love to see more books by Ortiz translated into English, particularly his work on the meaning of race in Cuba.



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