In this widely hailed book, NPR correspondent Tom Gjelten fuses the story of the Bacardi family and their famous rum business with Cuba's tumultuous experience over the last 150 years to produce a deeply entertaining historical narrative. The company Facundo Bacardi launched in Cuba in 1862 brought worldwide fame to the island, and in the decades that followed his Bacardi descendants participated in every aspect of Cuban life. With his intimate account of their struggles and adventures across five generations, Gjelten brings to life the larger story of Cuba's fight for freedom, its tortured relationship with America, the rise of Fidel Castro, and the violent division of the Cuban nation.
The commonplace view of Cuba's prerevolutionary business establishment as a corrupt kleptocracy is revised in this intriguing history of the Bacardi rum company and its involvement in Cuban politics. NPR correspondent Gjelten (Sarajevo Daily) paints the 146-year-old distiller, once an icon of Cuban industry, as a model corporate citizen efficient, innovative, socially responsible and union-tolerant. Its leaders were pillars of nationalist politics, he contends: company president Emilio Bacardi was a leader of Cuba's rebellion against Spain, and in the 1950s CEO Jos Bosch helped fund Castro's insurrection. (After Castro nationalized Bacardi's Cuban holdings, Bosch started funding anti-Castro exiles.) Bacardi's image as Cuban-nationalism-in-a-bottle becomes farcical when the company, now a multinational behemoth, fights an absurd court battle with Cuba's state rum company over the "Havana Club" trademark. But Gjelten's account of a liberal, progressive Cuban business clan complicates and enriches the conventional picture of a society torn between right and left dictatorships.