Waiting For Snow In Havana Summary

Carlos Eire

Waiting For Snow In Havana

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Waiting For Snow In Havana Summary

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Winner of the prestigious National Book Award, Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Childhood (2003) by Carlos Eire tells the author’s life story of growing up in pre-Castro, pro-capitalist Cuba, leaving once the communists came to power, and his early life of hardship as an immigrant to the US. He wrote the memoir in four months, inspired by the Elián González custody battle in 2000; he wanted to provide a counter narrative to what a childhood in Cuba was really like and suggest that González, ten at the time, should have stayed in the US. Eire teaches history and religion at Yale.

The style of the memoir has been praised for reading like a novel and containing magical realist elements. The memoir is especially interested in how politics affects and determines a child’s life. Eire examines loss of country and family, and the possible redemption found in other countries and with new relationships.

In 1959, Eire, along with his older brother, Tony, is a privileged child living in Havana, Cuba. On New Year’s Day, Eire is eight years old. The president of Cuba, Fulgencio Batista, has left the country for Spain, leaving Fidel Castro in power. Everything changes for young Eire. Most of the memoir covers Eire’s boyhood in Cuba in the years before the Cuban Revolution and after, until he left the country in 1962.

Waiting for Snow in Havana does not have a clear chronology, as an autobiography usually does. Instead, the forty chapters are arranged by the urgency of Eire’s memories.

As an eleven-year-old, Eire and his brother, Tony, are part of Operation Peter Pan, a secret operation sponsored by the Catholic Church and US government to airlift 14,000 children out of Cuba in a two year period from 1960 to 1962. They are sent by themselves without their parents. Eire recounts that because they are children, they receive security clearances from the US government without any issue. Three and a half years pass before his mother joins her sons in the US. Eire never sees his father again; his father dies in 1977.

Eire’s father, a judge, provides the family a lavish and intellectually adventurous lifestyle. His father is a man of culture and they live with hundreds of antiques. He has a slightly histrionic personality and believes himself to be the reincarnation of Louis XVI of France. Decades later, Eire, a trained historian, will look into errors made by his father and will find that he was, contrary to what everyone thought, historically accurate.

At the Eire house, all of the errands are taken care by drivers and maids. Eire attends an elite, expensive Catholic school, the same school attended by the President’s sons.

After the revolution, Eire sees all of his family’s wealth taken from them. He also sees an increasingly draconian censorship of art and free thought. One day, he tries to buy a ticket to see the movie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and is notified that the movie has been outlawed.

Also around the time of the revolution, Eire’s father adopts an orphan boy he saw selling lottery tickets on a street corner. He claims that the boy is his son from a previous life. The love shown to this new step-brother is the first rift between Eire and his father.

Long before Castro’s ascension to power, Eire’s father maintained that the military leader would be terrible for Cuban citizens. Yet, he never plans to leave because he loves his art collection and the land of his birth. His father hates to think that the communists would seize his art collection should he leave the island. For most of his life, Eire cannot understand why his father does not want to join the rest of his family in America; he vacillates from hurt to anger, and occasionally charges his father with selfishness. Eire eventually forgives his father, but he still changes his last name to his mother’s maiden name, Eire.

He loves his father though, and recounts the time his father took everyone car-surfing (driving through small waves on the beach); visiting Havana’s Chinatown to buy cheap fireworks; watching the film The Vikings at least a dozen times. Eire writes about his father taking him to court during the summer. These trips allowed him to gain a more comprehensive sense of Cuba because he saw people from all walks of life go through trial.

His other reflections include battling a monkey, capturing lizards, and waging “breadfruit” wars. These childhood reveries were praised for representing a sensitive and vivid portrait of Caribbean life.

Eire’s mother puts the gears in motion to get her children out of Cuba. Rumors circulate that Castro will separate the elite families. She completes all the paperwork and encourages them to stay strong in foster homes until she arrives. She is practical and does not share her husband’s grand imagination.

In the US, Eire and his brother move from foster home to foster home until they end up in Chicago to live with an aunt and uncle. When his disabled mother joins them, the two teenagers go to school during the day and work at night. His older brother soon quits high school to work even more. His mother, who never had to work in Cuba, works at a factory. The memoir ends with Eire as a hopeful teenager who is determined to make it in the US.