Book Review: Cuba Then

Cuba Then

This is a guest post by Susan Guillory of The Unexplorer.

Cuba has been — up until recently — forbidden for Americans to visit. And yet there’s always been a romantic glow about it that many of us (myself included) yearned to experience for ourselves. Cuba Then, by Ramiro A. Fernández, gives you a nostalgic glimpse into Cuba’s past. Filled with more than 300 photos from private collections, the revised and expanded book covers Cuba from the late 1800s to the 1950s.

The Glam Life in Havana

Rosita Fornes
Rosita Fornés and spilled produce, promotional photo shoot, Havana, 1958 Credit: Armand Studios (Armando Hernández López)

The photo collection includes some promotional photos of celebrities, like the one above, as well as rare daguerrotypes and street scenes in Havana. You get a sense of what it must have been like to live in Havana in its heyday: plenty of partying folk dancing the Guaguancó. Men dressed up as women to celebrate Carnevale. A gritty looking man holding a rooster who would, in minutes likely lose his life in a cockfight.

A Tinge of Darkness

While there was no sadness or negativity in the book, I did pick up on when Fidel Castro and his followers started appearing in the images. Family portraits consisted of two unsmiling parents and three boys dressed like Fidel Mini Me’s.  A photo showed a young, but still heavily-bearded Fidel snorkeling, his security detail bobbing behind him in the water. There was less indulgence in these photos. They seemed to foreshadow what was to come.

To sit down with the book is to consume it as a whole, as there are few words and many enjoyable photos that will keep you occupied. These photos are accompanied by the occasional poem (in Spanish and English) or random thought on life in Cuba.

If I have any suggestions for this book, it is to put the photos in chronological order. They seemed to skip all over history, which was a bit disjointed for me. Still, it’s a wonderful book, especially if you yearn to visit Cuba (or have).

READ  5 Things To Do in Cienfuegos, Cuba

Cuba Then

Ramiro A. Fernández; foreword and poems by Richard Blanco

The Monacelli Press; available on Amazon

Hardcover, 7 1/4 x 9 3/8

320 pages

350 photographs

The Monacelli Press gave me this book for review purposes, but all opinions are my own.