USA Today "New and Noteworthy" • One of The Washington Post's "10 Books to Read—and Gift—in December"
Fidel Castro is dead. Donald Trump was elected president. And to most outsiders, the fate of Cuba has never seemed more uncertain. Yet those who look close enough may recognize that signs of the next revolution are etched in plain view.
This is Cuba is a true story that begins in the summer of 2009 when a young American photo-journalist is offered the chance of a lifetime—a two-year assignment in Havana.
For David Ariosto, the island is an intriguing new world, unmoored from the one he left behind. From neighboring military coups, suspected honey traps, salty spooks, and desperate migrants to dissidents, doctors, and Havana’s empty shelves, Ariosto uncovers the island’s subtle absurdities, its Cold War mystique, and the hopes of a people in the throes of transition. Beyond the classic cars, salsa, and cigars lies a country in which black markets are ubiquitous, free speech is restricted, privacy is curtailed, sanctions wreak havoc, and an almost Kafka-esque goo of Soviet-style bureaucracy still slows the gears of an economy desperate to move forward.
But life in Cuba is indeed changing, as satellite dishes and internet hotspots dot the landscape and more Americans want in. Still, it’s not so simple. The old sentries on both sides of the Florida Straits remain at their posts, fists clenched and guarding against the specter of a Cold War that never quite ended, despite the death of Fidel and the hand-over of the presidency to a man whose last name isn’t Castro.
And now, a crisis is brewing.
In This Is Cuba, Ariosto looks at Cuba from the inside-out over the course of nine years, endeavoring to expose clues for what’s in store for the island as it undergoes its biggest change in more than half a century.
In this hybrid of literary memoir and investigative reporting, journalist Ariosto narrates his yearly trips to Cuba, starting in 2009, to explore the country's rapidly changing economic and cultural landscape under Raul Castro's rule. The book includes an abbreviated version of roughly 60 years of hostility between Cuba and the U.S. (including the trade embargo, the millions of U.S. tax dollars spent promoting democracy in Cuba, and the 1999 return of six-year-old Elian Gonzalez to his Cuban father). Ariosto also illustrates day-to-day life, vividly describing Cubans' baseball obsession, the "steamy salvation" of cafecito, and the local color ("Crackling old radios and the brassy tunes of street musicians seeped through courtyards and down cobblestone alleyways"). He explains the black market, the convoluted dual currency system, and the slow advancement of internet access. In the later chapters, he turns to the careful negotiations of the d tente coordinated by President Obama and Raul Castro, and speculates about Cuba's future under Castro's replacement, Miguel D az-Canel. Ariosto is on a mission to discover authenticity, a relatively subjective idea, but he does not idealize Cuba, and he is refreshingly aware of his privilege as a white American man. With his firsthand experience, Ariosto brings modern Cuba to life, with all its complexities and eccentric charms.