Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy

by Carlos Eire

Paperback, 2004

Call number

972.9 E



Free Press (2004), 400 pages


A childhood in a privileged household in 1950s Havana was joyous and cruel, like any other--but with certain differences. The neighbor's monkey was liable to escape and run across your roof. Surfing was conducted by driving cars across the breakwater. Lizards and firecrackers made frequent contact. Carlos Eire's childhood was a little different from most. His father was convinced he had been Louis XVI in a past life. At school, classmates with fathers in the Batista government were attended by chauffeurs and bodyguards. At a home crammed with artifacts and paintings, portraits of Jesus spoke to him in dreams and nightmares. Then, in January 1959, the world changes: Batista is suddenly gone, a cigar-smoking guerrilla has taken his place, and Christmas is cancelled. The echo of firing squads is everywhere. And, one by one, the author's schoolmates begin to disappear--spirited away to the United States. Carlos will end up there himself, without his parents, never to see his father again. Narrated with the urgency of a confession, Waiting for Snow in Havana is both an ode to a paradise lost and an exorcism. More than that, it captures the terrible beauty of those times when we are certain we have died--and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.… (more)

Media reviews

Booklist Reviews
Eire's complex, introspective memoir begins the day his world changed: when Castro's troops sent President Batista into exile far from Cuba in 1959. The son of a judge who believed himself to be Louis XVI reincarnated, Carlos, along with his older brother, Tony, spent his days playing with fireworks and lizards. He attended an elite school, where Batista's children were his classmates. Carlos' biggest worries were the disapproving stares he received from a portrait of Maria Theresa of Austria and Jesus, who would sometimes appear in the window to him. All of that changed when Castro came to power; suddenly, attending a prestigious school or driving a classy car was dangerous. The Eire family remained in Cuba even as others left, until finally Eire's parents sent Carlos and Tony to Florida, where a very different life awaited them. Years passed before their mother joined them, but Carlos never saw his father again. In this open, honest, and at times angry memoir, Eire bares his soul completely and captivates the reader in the process.

User reviews

LibraryThing member CynthiaBelgum
Biographical essays illustrating the privileged life of the wealthy in pre-Castro Havana by an American immigrant who is now a religious studies professor at Yale. The essays are linked by the sense of anarchy in a (typical?) boy's life: destroying things, acting aggressively towards friends and family. I couldn't relate to this. There are number of insights which struck me: a chance comment by Carlos' nanny gives him the misconception that he will turn black if he eats dark colored foods, when in fact the flight from Havana to Florida (at age 11) was much more effective in that transformation. Lots of religious beliefs portending his future career? Very well written with interesting material.… (more)
LibraryThing member TooBusyReading
Subtitled “Confessions of a Cuban Boy,” this memoir first caught my eye because of the great title, then because it was written by one of the boys separated from his family during the early reign of Fidel Castro, during the Operation Pedro Pan exodus, an attempt to save children of those deemed against the Revolution, those most in danger.

The book almost lost me when the author along with other little boys, cruel as children often can be, started torturing lizards, symbolic of much to come. I expected a typical memoir but that is certainly not what I got. The writing is not linear, the author speaks to us readers directly, and frequently gives hints of what is to come, promises to tell us more later. The style is quirky and was a bit disconcerting to me until I gave myself over to the author's story.

The child, Carlos, most often refers to his father as Louis XVI, as his father claimed to be in a former life, and his mother as Marie Antoinette, although she did not claim to be a reincarnation. His father was a judge and an attorney, one of the privileged ones under Batista. Childhood in Havana is painted in pictures vibrant and astounding, family and friends all coming to life. Very little of the book deals with Carlos or his family after Carlos was separated from his brother, the only person he knew in the United States, as soon as they landed.

Some examples of the author's style of prose:

“Crotons of all kinds. Giant philodendrons. Caladiums. Flowers. Palms in all shapes and sizes. Especially royal palms, so tall, so regal. So Cuban. Palms that pierce my heart and entrails to this very day.”

“I was one of the lucky ones. Fidel couldn't obliterate me as he did all the other children, slicing off their heads over so slowly, and replacing them with fearful, slavish copies of his own. New heads held in place by two bolts, like Boris Karloff's in Frankenstein, one bolt forged from fear, the other from illusion.”

“If Adam and Eve hadn't screwed up so badly, and their children had been able to play in the Garden of Eden, they would have laughed just like we did that day, when we threw rocks at one another on the edge of the turquoise sea.”

“To understand Fidel you have to be out of your mind. To live with the memories, too, it helps to have lucid moments that others mistake for delusions.”

This lyrical memoir is written with a strange mix of philosophy, religion, symbolism, and an adult's remembrance of his childhood: family, Havana, and the politics of the day. It is serious, touching, beautiful, funny, and entertaining. I loved it.
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LibraryThing member etxgardener
The blurb on the back of my copy of this book says that it both an exorcism and an ode to a paradise lost: Mr. Eire's memories of his boyhood as a member of the Cuban upper classes, the wrenching transformation of his country after Castro's revolution and his emmigration to America as part of an airlift of 14,000 children dubbed Operation Pedro Pan.

As one who has a love of magical realism in Latin American fiction, this book is magical realism come to life as the author talks about his parents past lives as the King & Queen of France, as he sees Jesus through his dining room window and ponders the horrors of the lizards that are everywhere in Havana. Many of these images can be ascribed to memories that are hazy with time and that dwell in early childhood. Are they really memories or are they memories of what has been told in the family over and over again until they seem real? It really doesn't matter as the author's writing is so compelling that I could not put this book down.
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LibraryThing member ammurphy
memoirs of a privileged childhood in Cuba before being sent to the US at age 11, as Castro changed Cuba forever.
Poetically written.
LibraryThing member bakersfieldbarbara
Excellent details and images and characters. a glimpse at a shattered Cuba.
LibraryThing member mramos
Carlos Eire wrote an extremely well written memoir. He write's about his childhood in Havana. He gives us vivid pictures of Havana at the time and of the colorful inhabitants of his neighborhood. The world of Havana through the eyes of a child.

The wide eyed wonder in which we see this marvelous world called Havana, makes us stop and wonder. Is this a memoir or novel. The writting of child like innocence is so real. How can we remember it. Of course, this is about Mr. Erie's childhood, during the 50's and 60's. So we also get to see the growing darkness and fear brought about by the great revolution brought about by Fidel Castro...and how all their lives were changed.

It will also let you see why so many Cuban's fled that beautiful island for the USA. Most hoping it would only be a temporary seperation from family and homeland. I not only understood what life was like both before and after Castro...I could actually understand the emotion he felt as a child. And now as an adult looking back upon his past. This is a great read.
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LibraryThing member sriemann
Eire's experiences and the writing that eludicates them into vibrancy gained this memoir five stars. The sentences flow from prose to poetic, and he describes the surroundings so well, without dragging the pace down. I didn't know a lot about Cuba during the time of Castro coming into power, but now I understand why Cuban exiles in the UNited States feel so strongly. Definite recommendation.… (more)
LibraryThing member mysteena
I didn't actually finish this but I still really enjoyed what I read. Written by a scholar, this is the memoir of his childhood in pre-Castro Cuba. At the age of 11 his parents shipped him and his brother to America and that was the last time he saw his father. He has a very entertaining and captivating writing style. The only reason I didn't finish is because apparently I've become completely shallow lately. I need fluffy fiction. I do hope to finish this once I become an adult again :)… (more)
LibraryThing member Sovranty
"The past is a nice place to visit, but not a place to live" is something I've been told. Carlos Eire's writings beg the opposite. He offers a glimpse at paradise lost too soon and briefly of a living hell on earth. It is related in just the way a child would tell a story: somewhat easily distracted by other thoughts but seamlessly returning to the original topic as though it were all related embellishing when fantasy is logical. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing style. The story combines horror, bravery, adventure, pure happiness and pure sadness.… (more)
LibraryThing member mysteena
I didn't actually finish this but I still really enjoyed what I read. Written by a scholar, this is the memoir of his childhood in pre-Castro Cuba. At the age of 11 his parents shipped him and his brother to America and that was the last time he saw his father. He has a very entertaining and captivating writing style. The only reason I didn't finish is because apparently I've become completely shallow lately. I need fluffy fiction. I do hope to finish this once I become an adult again :)… (more)
LibraryThing member Eye_Gee
This is the only memoire I've read by someone who lived through Castro's take over of Cuba. The author was 9 or 10-years old when the Revolution took place. By the time he was 11, Fidel was firmly in power, and his parents sent him to the U.S. where he knew no one. It took his mother 3 and a half years to secure an exit permit and join him, and he never saw his father again. It is a compelling portrait of the rich childhood he had, the adaptations he had to make as an exile, and how his Cuban culture influenced his experience of America. He went on to become a professor of History and Religion and did not plan to write a memoire. When the news story of Elian Gonzalez emerged the story more or less demanded to be written. The writing is quirky and interesting. It's not one of my all time favorite books, but I would definitely recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member froxgirl
Eire was a young child of the ruling class when the Cuban Revolution came. Before, he had attended school with Battista's children and had lived in a mansion stuffed with the valuable artifacts and collections of his distant, eccentric father. As a boy, Carlos lived an idyllic life, surrounded by wealth and by many fond relatives, and he was allowed to run wild through his beloved Havana neighborhood.

The adult writing the book still resents Fidel for ruining the lives of the rich and for the many restrictions and the hard times that have impacted all Cubans since the revolution. But he's got nothing good to say about the benefits to the poor of universal health care and universal education on the island. He's also furious at the father who would not leave Cuba and who adopted a boy who abused Carlos and his brother.

Carlos seems to resent Fidel more for his long boring speeches than for the vast changes he made in Cuba, but perhaps this is what a young boy would notice the most. Of course there is some justification for Eire's loathing of Fidel - his entire world was devastated as he spent years of his American life in institutions and in foster care, until his mother finally arrived. In the US, Carlos and his family suffered through poverty, not unlike dark skinned Cubans up until Fidel came to power.

Although I am generally sympathetic to Fidel and Che, I can recognize good writing and how tough it was for this boy in those times.
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LibraryThing member maryreinert
Carlos Eire was one of 14,000 children airlifted out of Cuba without their parents during "Operation Peter Pan" between 1960 and 1962. This funny, poignant, sad, insightful, and informative memoir won the National Book Award in 2003 and rightfully so. Carlos was 11 when he and his brother Tony, who was 13, landed in Miami believing that their parents were soon to follow. In the hour flight from Havana, Carlos went from being a privileged fair skinned Cuban boy to being a "spic."

The majority of this book is set in Havana where Carlos enjoys a care-free and privileged life with a thick layer of Catholicism and extended family. His father is a eccentric art-collecting judge, his mother a woman with a crippled leg due to polio and dedicated to her children. The antics of Carlos and his brother, Tony, are often hilarious but life is changing as Fidel Castro ousts President Batista on January 1 1959. Suddenly, there is gunfire in the streets, Christmas is made illegal, relatives are imprisoned, and parents are scrambling for ways to protect their children by sending them to the United States.

Eire is an absolutely beautiful writer. Filled with humor, philosophy, and a sprinkling of theology, "Waiting for snow in Havana" provides the reader with a chance to walk in the shoes of a young immigrant who was thrown into a strange new world. Eire is currently a professor of theology at Yale.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
Considering that Carlos Eire was only eleven years old when he left Cuba, this book could have gone wrong in a lot of different ways. From a certain perspective, it's nothing but a series of childhood reminiscences, not too different from the kind that any upper-middle class Cuban boy of his generation might have. He talks about Cuba's beautiful skies, its seashore, its daily rituals, and a bit about its fragile social structure. But he mines this material for all that it's worth. And specifically because his life is now a closed book, every one of these forty brief chapters is impregnated with terrible longing and loss. It also helps that the author's got a sharp eye, a good sense of structure -- these little chapters frequently connect to others or circle back on themselves -- and a well-developed sense of irony. Considering that his father -- athough often kind, caring and boyishly playful -- actually seems to have believed himself to be a reincarnation of Louis XIV of France, he probably needed that last quality.

But "Waiting for Snow in Havana" also goes deeper, in some ways, than the average midlife memoir has to. Like Eire, I moved countries at a young age, although, unlike him, I've never been any sort of refugee. Even so, I found parts of this book excruciatingly difficult to read, and the author's description of the profound effect that this event had on not just his life but on his deepest self rings very true. Eire still considers him fundamentally, inalterably Cuban, and the reader can sense how the memories he includes here have sustained him throughout his life. At the same time, the rude shock of being separated from his family and culture and losing his social status also shaped his adulthood. In its last chapters, we can see that "Waiting for Snow in Havana" is much more than an exercise in upper-class nostalgia. Eire fully embraces the fact that he had to face great adversity and grow from it: he's turned his exile and the sometimes fragmentary memories he took from Cuba into a way to discover himself and who he is. This book won't suit anyone, but I suspect that lots of people who's had suffered a serious geographic dislocation at some point during their lives -- who've had to leave everything behind and move on -- will find it to be seriously inspiring testimony.
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LibraryThing member smclawler
Wonderful description of a little boy's life in the 1950's with the author's experiences in Havana, Cuba mirroring my husband's childhood in Springfield MA. Eire's description of rocks as toys, grandparents and aunts in residence, fascination with incendiary devices such re fireworks, even the classic clown costume, are a few of the universal rights of childhood in the 50's.… (more)




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