We met at Claire's on Wednesday to discuss journalist Alma Guillermoprieto's memoir, Dancing with Cuba. She wrote the book some thirty years after spending six months in Cuba teaching modern dance at the state-run school there. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about the history of the revolution in Cuba; of course I know about Che and Fidel, but this memoir comes from someone who was there when it was just getting started (albeit as an outsider—she's Mexican, but she'd lived most of her life in the U.S.). Of course, being a memoir and not a history textbook, the revolution is presented through the prism of her own experience there—or, more importantly perhaps, through the prism of her memories of her experience there. I loved this passage from the prologue:
With nothing to go on but this fistful of tatters [a few letters, a notebook, a few mementos from her students], it would be absurd to claim that the following pages are a reliable historical account of the events that took place in my life during those six months. Yet this is not a novel. It is a faithful transcription of my memories, some of them hazy, others riddled with holes left by the passage of the years, others patched up by time and the filters of experience and distance, and still others, no doubt, completely invented by the stubborn narrator we all have within us, who wants things to be the way they sound best to us now, and not the way they were.
I had some complaints with the book: I didn't understand exactly how and when she got swept up in the revolution; I never fully accepted how she could accept the revolution and be an artist; I expected some outrage at the inequities that already existed in that burgeoning socialist nation. But, for the most part, it was an eye-opening book and in some ways a remarkable story of a very brief but important time in a young woman's life, when she went through both a radical political awakening and also a realization that dance could never constitute her whole existence as she'd thought.
Next up is Francine Prose's latest novel, A Changed Man.