March 17, 2009

Books: Cuba - A New History by Richard Gott

Cuba is a country that has long held a fascination for me for a number of reasons. There is the idyllic Caribbean location, the wonderful music, famous around the world, the romance of Hemingway, the revolution and, above all, the notion of a country that has stood tall and remained defiantly independent in the face of serious threats from larger and stronger powers.

Since Cuba is a country that polarises opinion in other parts of the world, there are all manner of books that are either strongly in favour or violently against the revolution, but Cuba ~ A New History takes a refreshingly objective view of this small Caribbean island nation. The author, Richard Gott, has visited the island many times and made a career as a journalist on Latin American affairs. Indeed, he was one of the few people on the scene in the Bolivian jungle able to give a positive identification on the body of Che Guevara after the revolutionary had been shot.

Gott's book looks at the history of Cuba over the 500 years or so since the Spaniards first reached its shores. The first half of the book gives us an overview of the island under Spanish rule and the various slave rebellions that took place periodically. Due to the paucity of documentation on the early periods, many of the incidents are explained fairly briefly.

Things become more interesting as the book tackles the battle for independence from Spain and the subsequent American rule of the early twentieth century. It really hits top gear however when dealing with Castro's revolution and the history of the country since then, an era that the author has firsthand experience of. Gott offers a refreshingly objective view of the revolution, in turns praising its victories and criticising its shortcomings, but all the while trying to retain an overall balance.

The book is highly recommended for anyone wanting to understand how Cuba has developed in the way it has and why Castro's government didn't fall when other communist regimes crumbled twenty years ago.

I haven't been to Cuba yet, but finding out more about the place makes me want to go more than ever.

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