Thursday, July 27, 2006

Party time

The most sacred of all days in the communist Cuba's political calendar is the 26th of July. It marks the day in 1953 when Fidel Castro and a group of mostly young, middle-class, Catholic twentysomethings stormed the Moncada Barracks in the city of Santiago de Cuba, the second largest in the country.

The idea behind the attack was to spark off a national rebellion against Fulgencio Batista, who had staged a coup d'etat a year earlier. Instead, the attack was a military disaster: the Army, which remained loyal to Batista, easily withstood the ill-prepared assault, a few of the rebels were killed, many were captured and sent to prison, including Castro, and for a time at least, Batista seemed untouchable.

But in the longer term, the Moncada attack was a public relations master stroke for Castro. All of sudden, the young lawyer from Oriente province became something of a curiosity in the Cuban media and indeed, in the media outside Cuba. He was sent to prison, then was released as part of a national amnesty, left for Mexico and then, in 1956, arrived back in Cuba along with a few other exiles to toppled Batista. It was the beginning of a military and propaganda campaign that would result in Castro entering Havana triumphally in January 1959.

As a child growing up in Cuba during the 1960s and early 1970s, I remember el 26 de Julio well and not just because it was a public holiday. On the 26th of July, Castro would give what was supposed to be the most important speech of the year. As I recount in Child of the Revolution, a million habaneros would congregate in the Plaza de la Revolucion back then - many by choice, others because they had no choice – to hear El Comandante en Jefe speak for five or six hours. And there was no escape. The ceremony would be broadcast live on all television stations and on all radio stations and next day or the day after, the entire speech would be published in the newspapers, word for word, ovation after obligatory ovation … Pages and pages and pages of words that even the most revolutionary Cubans, like some of my uncles, would never, ever read.

The more things change …

This year, the 26th of July was celebrated not in Havana but in the city of Bayamo, in the eastern end of the island, not far from where Castro was born and not all that far, either, from the town of Banes, where I grew up.

The numbers were down considerably, as you would expect in a smaller region – about 100,000 according to the Cuban official media - but Castro still managed to speak for two and a half hours, which sounds impressive for a man about to turn 80. He spent the time doing what he has always done: plucking meaningless figures from the air to show how well things are going in Cuba; comparing Cuban health statistics with those in selected capitalist countries (they are always better in Cuba, of course); encouraging his new friends in Latin America, such as Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales, to "fight imperialism"; warning yet again of that impending invasion by the United States that never seems to eventuate; and on and on … All of it faithfully recorded by a sycophantic, government-controlled media.

But Castro did make a promise. Or it sounded like a promise. Claiming that more Cubans are now reaching the ripe old age of 100 thanks to his Government's outstanding social services, Castro added: "But our little neighbours to the North should not fear - I am not planning to be in office at that age.”

So, there you have it. The good news and the bad news all rolled into one: 20 more years. As Cubans would say, se cago la cosa!
 Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

More recommended reading

A little while back, I posted a list of English-language books that would be helpful for someone who had read Child of the Revolution and wanted to know more about Cuba or the Cuban exile experience. The list, which was included in material prepared by Allen & Unwin for reading groups, was far from exhaustive.

There is another book I am currently reading that would make perfect reading for anyone wanting to understand just what is going on in Cuba today. And it’s a good read, too. Sadly, the book is only available in Spanish at the moment.

It is called La Neblina del Ayer and is written by a Cuban-based writer called Leonardo Padura.

Published last year in Madrid, the book is the latest in a series of detective novels featuring Mario Conde, who used to be a police officer but now, some 20 years after the setting for the first novel, makes a living selling rare second hand books in Havana. Conde buys the books from elderly or destitute Cubans who are desperate to get their hands on US dollars or euros so they can use the hard currency to supplement the meagre and unreliable rations they are entitled to in the official, Cubans-only shops. It's a rationing system that has been in place since 1962 - that's right, since 1962! - and which I recount in a chapter of my own book. Conde then sells the rare books to rich foreigners. For dollars, of course. It’s not strictly legal but as the one-time police officer says, Everyone does it to survive.

This fictional transition itself – from police officer defending revolutionary ideals to mini-capitalist weaving his way around an oppressive bureaucracy - speaks volume about what has happened to Fidel Castro’s once ambitious and in many cases, popular Revolution.

I have now read all of Padura’s previous Conde works, and as the books progress, the protagonist’s total disillusionment with the regime becomes more and more in-your-face. Same with the growing cynicism of almost all of Padura’s finely-drawn characters. It’s expertly done. Sometimes, you need to read between the lines – which is much easier for Cubans, of course – but by and large, that sense of decay and hopelessness is unmistakable, whether deliberate or not.

Padura still lives in Cuba, appears to be tolerated by the regime and is occasionally interviewed by the local media, which is government-controlled. And yet his books are much better known outside the island. Perhaps it's the fact that the image he paints of Havana is not one that would please the censors, let alone tourism authorities: a city that is at once exciting and haunting but also crumbling, dirty, totally corrupt (everyone is on the take), and increasingly crime-ridden. And populated by a people who are sick and tired of revolutionary slogans and who see foreigners as nothing more than a convenient meal ticket.

In many ways, Padura's work reminds me of the books and films and plays that started to flourish in Spain in the few years before Francisco Franco’s death in 1975, when writers and film-makers were constantly (but very carefully) testing the limits of francoist censorship. Largely because they knew El Caudillo - as Franco was known in the official media - was near death ... and they were convinced his regime would collapse as soon as he was buried. Sounds familiar?

Anyway, Neblina del Ayer is fascinating reading. And highly recommended.

Note: Two of the earlier Mario Conde novels are now been translated into English: Havana Red and Havana Black. I gather you can get them through Amazon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Book Reviews (III)

Posted by Picasa
As a former journalist, I know how difficult it is to encapsulate a complex issue or a lengthy interview or a major pronouncement into an article of just a few hundred words. It's a rare ability and one I have always admired, especially among journalists on commercial radio stations who have to summarise day-long court cases or Parliamentary debates into brief reports, all the while ensuring the reports are fair - and accurate.

It's the same with book reviews, I am sure.

The review you see above was published this last Sunday in The Sun Herald, which is one of two Sunday popular papers in Sydney, with a weekly readership of about 1.6 million. It was written by Frank Walker, a senior journalist at the paper and someone I have known professionally for many years. He is a tough bastard, Frank. Uncompromising. Which is why I was thrilled by his review - and the way he has managed to encapsulate the essence of Child of the Revolution into just 120 or so word. Count them.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Not dead, folks

Fidel Castro is alive. Not sure if he is well. But he most certainly is alive. The newswire photograph above shows Castro arriving today in Cordoba, the second largest city in Argentina, to attend a South American trade summit.

Castro's appearance follows days of speculation in and outside Cuba that the soon-to-be 80 year old dictator may have died. Obviously, these rumours were somewhat exaggerated.

This is not the first time rumours of Castro's impending death have surfaced. In fact, they have been a constant of Cuban political life for the past 47 years. This time, the rumours started when Castro disappeared for days from the Cuban media - which is tightly controlled by the regime. Instead, the official papers started publishing cringe-making, laudatory articles about his brother, Raul, the anointed heir, complete with photographs of the slightly-younger Castro (he is 75), with his family, in military uniform, relaxing with friends, etc. And then, as if by magic, Castro the Elder reappears, this time in Argentina, looking as healthy and as alert as you can expect from someone of his age. And loving all the attention, I am sure.

Which makes me wonder whether those "he is really dead this time" rumours are actually started by the Cuban regime? The highly-respected exiled journalist and author Carlos Alberto Montaner thinks so and you know, I think he may just be right. True, it'd be a perverse and seemingly pointless exercise but hey, this is Cuba after all.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

A Cuban cigar

According to news reports today, Fidel Castro has sent some Cuban rum and cigars to Nelson Mandela, the former South African president, who turns 88 this week. He is such a charmer, that Castro. Only problem is that according to the South African media, Mandela is not known as a drinker - and he is a committed anti-smoker.

The magazine cover above, from the October 1963 issue of MAD, is a classic. You can see it in all its colourful glory at
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Book Reviews (II)

Some days ago, in an earlier post, I wrote about the importance of book reviews to publishers. So much so, I am sure some of them would happily walk barefoot over broken glass just to get one of their new releases reviewed in a major metropolitan newspaper. But let’s not be too harsh on publishers (Hello, Richard! Hello, Bec!!). Authors can be just as bad, if not worse.

I may be relatively new at this game but I have learned that reviews – good reviews – can be totally addictive. It’s a serious condition, too.

A case in point: Since Child of the Revolution hit the shelves in the first week of June, the book has been reviewed by all major newspapers. I am very happy about that, especially since all the reviews to date have been positive. What is beginning to worry me is the fact that each new review makes me crave more good reviews. I don’t want them to stop! I guess it’s no different to being addicted.

My first review appeared in The Australian, which is the flagship of Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspaper group. I didn’t know it was coming, which made it even more special.

Let me set the scene for you (well, it’s my bloody blog …)

Went out celebrating publication of the book on the Friday night with my best friends Henry and George. Both are clinical psychologists – make of that what you will – but more importantly, they enjoy the occassional Cuban cigar. As I do. So, naturally enough, after dinner at the Palisade Hotel at The Rocks (highly recommended) and a few drinks at the Lord Nelson (also highly recommended), we ended up at a cigar bar in Macquarie Street, Sydney. That's my explanation for waking up on the Saturday morning feeling a little queasy, to say the least. While I brew a cappuccino in the kitchen, I walk out and pick up an armful of the weekend papers from the front lawn. Make some toast, all the while keeping quiet so I don’t wake up my wife, who likes her Saturday morning sleep-in. After checking the front pages of all the papers (more problems in the Middle East, East Timor in crisis, trains running late, etc, etc), I open the Review section of The Australiam –- and there it is. Totally unexpected. My first review.

And the first thing I notice is that it’s written by Peter Corris. Not just any Peter Corris but the Peter Corris, the Australian novelist with some 35 odd books to his name. I am one of his many fans. I love his Cliff Hardy mysteries. And Peter Corris has reviewed my book! And he says … Yes, well, I can just about recite his review almost word for word, but I won’t bore you with the details. You can read the whole thing here.

I rush into the bedroom, wake my wife up (Sorry, darling …) and say, Look, look at this – my first review. And because she is my wife, she indulges me by sitting up and paying attention. It’s by Peter Corris, I tell her, all excited, and he says the book is … and I go on to read the entire thing to her. Then I wait until my daughter wakes up and I do the same thing. Then my son. Then a friend calls. He has read the review. Then I call my pal Henry: Go get The Australian, I say … I spent the rest of the day in this amazing state of utter bliss. Of course, I went to the newsagents and bought two more copies of the paper. As you do.

See? Intoxicating. Next weekend, there is a review in another paper. And it's also positive. Then the weekend after that ... I am hooked. I don't want them to stop, but I know they will. I am addicted, though ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Those Castro Rumours

I guess we will find out soon enough whether Fidel Castro is really dead or not. Even in a place like Cuba, where all media are controlled by the regime and where no one ever knows for sure what the upper echelons of the Communist hierarchy are up to, you can’t keep such big news hidden forever. Or can you? The Soviets were reasonably successful back in the early 1980s in keeping the West in the dark about just how sick Leonid Brezhnev really was, so you never know … Mind you, in the end, it didn’t do the old Bolsheviks any good.

Given the latest round of Castro speculation, I thought I’d share with you a brief “opinion” I wrote for a program called Perspective, which airs on Radio National, one of several networks that form part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). As the name of the program suggests, this is one of those programs were guests are given about five minutes to give a personal perspective on a topic of their choosing.

Mine went to air in late June, as part of the publicity push in Australia and New Zealand for the launch of Child of the Revolution: Growing Up in Castro’s Cuba. This is an edited version. You can read the full version as it went to air, by going here.

Perspective: Cuba

Cuba today is a country paralised by death. A death foretold.

Visitors to Havana return talking about a city – indeed, a whole country – anxiously waiting for the inevitable: the day Fidel Castro dies.

Castro has been in power now for 47 years. Most Cubans today have lived under no other regime. They have known no other leader. He turns 80 in August. He is frail and some say, verging on the senile, but very much still in control. And increasingly thinking about his legacy.

In a recent speech to students at Havana University, Castro raised the issue no one else in Cuba ever raises publicly: what will happen when he dies.

This wasn’t the youthful Castro you see in those romantic, black and white photographs from the 1960s, but a pessimistic old man admitting for the first time that well, yes, he is mortal. It was a rare moment of honesty in what passes for Cuban political life.

Castro is right to be worried about his legacy. He is right to be fearful about his own place in history … because there is absolutely no guarantee that things will stay the same in Cuba once he is gone.

His designated successor is his own brother, Raul, the second most powerful man in Cuba in his capacity as First Vice President and more importantly, Minister for the Armed Forces - a post the younger Castro has held coincidentally, for 47 years. But even Castro is questioning the viability of his own succession plan. He recently pointed out to a visiting French journalist what is patently obvious to everyone else: Raul is only five years younger – and his health is not all that great.

Instead, Castro said, Cubans could look to a younger generation of potential revolutionary leaders, aged in their 40s and 50s, like the Second Vice-President, Carlos Lage, or the dogmatic Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque.

The reality, of course, is that most Cubans are unlikely to warm up to the idea of leaving their future in the hands of dull bureaucrats like Lage or ideologically-driven apparatchiks like Perez Roque.

I suspect what most Cubans want – but cannot say to tourists lest they find themselves behind bars – is change. Cubans today, especially young Cubans, want to be able to start thinking for themselves, rather than having to continue to parrot the same old, tired slogans written for them by octogenarians.

For me, this sense of desperately wanting things to change was best illustrated by a recent Cuban-Spanish film, Habana Blues, that played at the Sydney Spanish Film Festival. While keeping within the bounds of censorship that have ruled Cuban cultural life since 1959 – that is, you never, ever criticise Castro - Habana Blues highlighted in surprisingly stark terms the palpable impatience of millions of young Cubans.

These are children of the Revolution looking for change. They want to be able to travel overseas. They want to be able to express themselves in music, in film and in writing without that pervasive fear of repercussion.

I suspect most young Cubans today want to be able to decide their own destiny, rather than have it decided for them by an 80 year old man who is said by Forbes magazine to have accumulated a fortune worth more than $US900 million.

I think that is why Castro is fearful. Because he knows that once he goes, the whole edifice will almost certainly come crashing down.

Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Reading Groups

Reading groups or book clubs have been around for a long time but they seem to have come back into fashion again in the past few years - at least in Australia, although I suspect this may be the case elsewhere. You can thank Oprah for this ...

Of course, publishers love reading groups. Not only are they made up of people who read and BUY books (that's always good), but members of reading groups are just as likely to read and/or recommend old books as they are new releases. They don't discriminate. That is why my publishers, Allen & Unwin, like publishers elsewhere, are very fond of reading groups. On their website, they have a whole section devoted to such groups, providing readers with notes about selected books, interviews with authors, sample questions and suggestions for further reading. It's all very nifty.

I know all this because Child of the Revolution has been picked by Allen & Unwin as one of the books suitable for such treatment, which I think is good news. So, if you click here, you will be able to dowload a stack of material related to the book.

In helping put this material together, I was asked to recommend other English-language books on Cuba suitable for further reading. A tough question because when you think about it, there are hundreds if not thousands of books out there on Cuba, especially history books and polemics about the Castro regime. Where do you start? And how do you deal with the inevitable bias of some of the books on offer? Anyway, here is my (very limited) selection of books about Cuba (or by Cubans) that I would recommend to someone who knows precious little about the island - and why I chose them. It's not a definite list by any means, but it's a start. I'd be interested in your own list ...


Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom; Hugh Thomas
The most complete English language history of Cuba. Lots of words but worth the effort.

Fidel: A Critical Portrait; Tad Szulc
One of many good biographies of Castro (most by American writers), this is probably the most comprehensive to date.

The Cuba Reader: History, Culture and Politics; edited by Aviva Chomsky
Comprehensive anthology, with a lean all the way to the Left.

Fidel: Hollywood’s Favourite Tyrant; Humberto Fontova
Another take on Castro and his Revolution, and why some Hollywood heavyweights would be better off sticking to film-making rather than politics.

Cuban Diaries: An American Housewife in Havana; Isadora Tattlin
How the vast majority of Cubans cope with communism on a daily basis today, as seen by an American resident.


Three Trapped Tigers; Guillermo Cabrera Infante
The great masterpiece of the late Cabrera Infante, the exiled Cuban novelist. Set in Havana just before the Revolution.

Dreaming in Cuban; Cristina Garcia
One take on the exile experience.

In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd; Ana Menendez
Another take on the Cuban exile experience.

Dirty Havana Trilogy; Pedro Juan Gutierrez
Sex-soaked, rum-fuelled machismo fiction set during the “special period” in the early 90s. By a Havana writer whose work is barely tolerated – and rarely published - inside Cuba.

The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love; Oscar Hijuelos
Entertaining yet moving novel about Cuban musicians in New York in the 1950s. A great read.

One more bright idea ...

Saludos desde Sydney - and thank you for your visit to the blog.

The previous post regarding just some of Fidel Castro’s many bizarre and inevitably ill-fated schemes over the past 47 years has obviously stirred a few memories.

In his comment, Albert Quiroga recalls being told by a Cuban who left during the Mariel boatlift about Castro’s great coffee growing project back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Albert, I remember it clearly, too, and mention it in my book ... along with the giant pineapples, the super-cow experiment and Castro's very own tropical version of French brie cheese.

The great coffee growing project came about when Castro decided that Cuba would become the world's number one coffee producer. Just like that. Unlike the Colombians or the Brazilians, who grew their coffee high up in the mountains, Cuba would be planting a type of coffee called, from what I recall, cafe caturra - a magical coffee plant that grew just about anywhere. Or so El Comandante en Jefe claimed. These magical plants would produce massive amount of the beans so that Cubans would never want for coffee. Ever. In fact, there would be so much coffee, Cuba would sell mountains of the stuff to the entire world at hugely inflated prices, etc, etc. Sounds familiar, right?

And so, these magical coffee plants were planted all over Havana as one of the key crops in what became known as El Cordon de la Habana - a ring of coffee and other plants to be grown around the capital city. In the process, hundreds of hectares of "useless" bushland were wiped out and replaced by the coffee plants. But it wasn’t just bushland: Habaneros were told by Castro to dig up their gardens, the media strips, their local parks, every bit of greenery - and plant the coffee instead. They did. Within months it became clear that the coffee plants were dying because of the lowland heat and the generally unsuitable climatic conditions. So, after months of feverish propaganda (there were endless reports on television, in the official newspaper, Granma, and even songs on Radio Progreso about the magical coffee plants), the whole idea was quietly shelved, never to be heard of again, at least not in the official media. The damage to the green areas around the capital were massive and in many ways, the city has never recovered.

Like I said, it’s like something of a Woody Allen movie. Except it’s not a movie.

PS: Albert – I enjoy your blog, too, especially those great pictures of Havana prior to 1959. Talk about the “lost city”.

PPS: Thank you, Henry, for your assistance in setting up the look of the blog. Much appreciated.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Just one bright idea

Just one bright idea ... and everything will be OK.

One of the aspects of my book that seems to get the most attention, judging by the feedback, is the never-ending capacity of Fidel Castro to dream up increasingly-bizarre plans and strategies to solve whatever problem is at hand - normally the Cuban economy.

Back when I was growing up in Banes, in the 1960s, we got used to Castro's grand ideas, some of which I describe in more detail (and from a child's perspective) in Child of the Revolution. The most audacious and predictably ill-fated of these was the great Ten Million Tonnes Sugar Harvest - La Zafra de los Dies Millones - which was to be the mother of all sugar harvests. Ordinarily, a sugar harvest of seven or eight million tonnes would be considered a huge success in Cuba. But this just wasn't good enough for Castro. He wanted 10 million tonnes. Why? Because then Cuba would be able to sell sugar at hugely inflated prices to everyone in the world (even those filthy capitalists!), and use the dollars that would inevitably flow back into the country to solve the many economic problems faced at the time by the regime.

Crazy? Well, yes. But no one dared contradict Castro, who had at his fingertips a bucketload of figures, graphs, tables and pie charts to convince even the most reticent of sceptics. Not that he needed to convince anyone, of course. And so, for 18 months in 1969-1970, the whole country was turned upside down in pursuit of Castro's latest pet project. Factories, schools and offices closed so that everyone could go off to the countryside to cut sugarcane. Nurses, teachers, street-cleaners ... everyone was sent out to cut sugarcane. It was a disaster. A monumental failure. Even the Soviets blanched at the results - and they were pumping millions of roubles a day into the place at the time.

Then there were Castro's wild plans to grow giant pineapples, tropical strawberries the size of oranges, super cows that would give so much milk Cubans would be able to bathe in milk - just like Cleopatra. Then, later, there was a plan to manufacture the best cheeses in the world (take that, you Frenchies!), and to drain the Cienaga de Zapata wetlands for agriculture - a huge environmental disaster had it gone ahead.

Looking back, it all seems like a huge joke. You know, something out of that Woody Allen film Bananas, where Allen plays the president for life of the Republic of San Marcos and decrees that from now on, everyone must speak Swedish ... and wear their underpants on the outside. Except that it was all serious - deadly serious - for Cubans, who had no choice but to go along with whatever dictates emanated from Castro's offices in Havana.

And lest you think Castro has learnt the errors of his ways, have a look at the photograph above. It was taken last year when El Comandante en Jefe announced his latest plan to solve Cuba's decades-long, endemic power shortages. I kid you not.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book Reviews (Part 1)

As an author, it doesn't take you long to learn all about The Power of the Review.

Your publisher will happily confirm that a "good" review in a major newspaper such as The Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian or The Age, will help boost sales. And often it will result in follow up calls by other media outlets wanting interviews or apperances which, in turn, help push up sales further, which in turn ... You know what I mean. Besides, a good review makes the author feel very, very happy. Happy enough to go off and share his thoughts with other bloggers.

On the other hand, I was warned, a "bad" review can sometimes (but not always) destroy a book. Not quite what you want to hear when you are new to this game. I gather that a bad review can mean your book gets pushed to the back of the shelves quicker than you can say, publish and be damned. And it will make the author very cross and very depressed and generally, very pissed off.

But apparently nothing compares to not getting a review at all. Full stop. Nada. In effect, having your book thoroughly and totally ignored by those whose job it is to tell the rest of us what we should and shouldn't be reading.

This a fate that befalls the vast majority of books, given that in Australia alone, somewhere between 60 and 80 new books - local as well as imported - will be published and marketed every week. The papers will only have room for half a dozen to 10 reviews at most in their weekly books pages, so the chances of getting your book reviewed are pretty slim to begin with. It also means that just getting your book reviewed (even if the end result isn't all that positive), is considered a major achievement in its own right. Pathetic? Probably, but that's the way it works out here in BookLand.

Anyway, this is a rather long preface to the purpose of today's blog, which is to share with you bits and pieces from a review of Child of the Revolution that appeared in The Sunday Tasmanian on Sunday, 9 July. This is the main newspaper in Tasmania, the smallest of the Australian states and a truly beautiful place. The paper has a readership of about 152,000, which is pretty good for a population of about 470,000.

This was not my first review. I am in the lucky position of having had my book reviewed by just about every major newspaper in the country, which makes me fell rather good. In fact, if you visit my webpage
you will find a summary (and links) to earlier reviews. I will post some of them here later, too. I am happy to report that so far, all the reviews have been "good". And yes, I can just about recite off the top of my head the best bits from the best reviews, but only if you insist. Go on, insist ... Anyway, it's a great party trick.

Back to The Sunday Tasmanian. In its review, the paper described the book as "a compelling story", which I think is a good start, before highlighting how Child of the Revolution deals with some of the inconsistencies and absurdities of life in communist Cuba back then. "It is also an entertaining story as (Garcia) explores the absurd gaps between rhetoric and reality," the review adds before concluding as follows:

Garcia has done his best to take the romance and myth out of the revolution and ridicule Fidel, but his love for the land of sultry music, hot nights and street carnivals shines through.

No complaints from me, except for the bit about doing my best to take the romance out of the Revolution. I didn't do that. Castro did that all by himself.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

In conversation with Louis Nowra

I wanted to share with you just some of the pictures taken on Tuesday evening, 4 July, at Gleebooks, which is a large, independent bookstore in Sydney, nor far from the University of Sydney.

It was one of those "in conversation" events where authors get interviewed - in front of a live audience! - about their work. In this case, I was invited to speak about Child of the Revolution: Growing up in Castro's Cuba, with Louis Nowra, the famous Australian author and playwright. My first such experience, too.

Was I nervous? You bet. But I can report that despite my initial reservations, the evening was sold out. Standing room only! And while quite a few friends and family did turn up (many, many thank yous!), there were plenty of people there whom I didn't know. I was very happy to see them, I can assure you, especially on what turned out to be a cold and windy Sydney winter's night.

Louis Nowra was fantastic. I have been a fan of his for years but we had never met before, although we did exchange some emails prior to Tuesday night. He had obviously read the book and came well prepared. On top of his game, as they say in the world of sports. My new best friend Louis was what you'd expect from an author of his calibre: witty, quick with the comebacks, and very, very generous with his remarks about and praise for the book. I was stoked.

I will post more about the night in the next day or so - and more about the great publicity treadmill that accompanies the publication of a book nowadays. It's been a steep learning curve but very enjoyable.

These pictures, by the way, were taken by my friend Billy Grossmann. Thank you, Mr G.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Child of the Revolution

Welcome to the blog of my new book, Child of the Revolution: Growing Up in Castro's Cuba.
The book is published in Australia and New Zealand by Allen & Unwin, but I am hoping it will find a US and European publisher soon.
For more detailed information on the book and the author, including summaries of reviews, interviews and media apperances, please visit the website at