three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
user_rating: 
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A Memoir of the Revolution

A-DancingCubaGuillermoprieto’s reputation today rests on her nonfiction writing about Latin America. But in 1970, she was a 20-year-old dancer, setting off to teach in Havana. In this year of the Ten Million Ton sugar harvest, with Castro determined to end Cuba’s reliance on the Soviet Union, nobody cared about artists. One top official put it bluntly: "We aren’t too sure what artists are good for." During her six months in Cuba, Guillermoprieto experienced the contradictions of the revolution. It brought both deprivation and hope, and turned bakers into security officials. By the time she left Cuba, the sugar harvest had failed. And, in Guillermoprieto’s estimation, so had the revolution.
Pantheon. 290 pages. $25.

Foreign Affairs 4 of 5 Stars
"Once begun, this marvelous book is almost impossible to put down. Guillermoprieto introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, some—such as the sinister eminence of Fidel Castro’s intelligence service, Manuel Piñeiro Losada—observed up close, and others—such as Castro himself—from afar." Kenneth Maxwell

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"Guillermoprieto’s description of everyday life under the revolution is intimate and poignant, and also tough-minded and shrewd." Daniel Kurtz-Phelan

NY Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ms. Guillermoprieto has written a memoir that is highly skeptical of the act of remembering. … More [trust] is won by the writer’s trained skepticism even toward an effort so much her own that, despite her perfect published English, she has written it in Spanish." Richard Eder

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dancing With Cuba is a pleasure to read, full of humanity, sly humor, curiosity and knowledge. … [She] uses dance as a lens through which to explore the aspirations and injustices of a whole society. It’s a fresh and lively perspective." Katha Pollit

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Dancing With Cuba is an honest memoir filled with the struggles most young people wrestle with: love, identity, and idealism." Stephen J. Lyons

Chicago Tribune 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Unfortunately, at the time she writes of, Guillermoprieto knew nothing of Cuba, the world, or herself, and the mature writer is allowed no voice in this distressingly adolescent book. … All in all, Dancing With Cuba is just another example of the current unfortunate fad for angst-ridden memoirs." Alan Peter Ryan

Critical Summary

Guillermoprieto turns her astute eye to the trials of Castro’s revolution. As with her previous three works of nonfiction, Guillermoprieto fills her writing with telling details and riveting characters, from top officials to her untrained, eager students, the martyred Che Guevara, and gay artists back from "sexual re-education" camps. She shares a vision that allows readers to discover the Cuba that faced the young Mexican-American dancer. Many critics interpreted the book both as a memoir and as a record of Cuba during a pivotal historical moment. In this critical half year she came to acknowledge her own failures as a dancer and revolutionary. And following Castro’s post-sugar harvest slogan to "transform victory into defeat," Guillermoprieto began to evolve from an idealistic, naive dancer into an insightful, illuminating writer.