Wednesday, August 03, 2022

Coming Up Cuban

Manzano. Sonia. Coming Up Cuban
August 2nd 2022 by Scholastic Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

After Fidel Castro's revolution in Cuban in 1959, things were very complicated. The important thing to remember is that Castro was against Bautista's US backed regime, which means that most of the books I've read about this time period by US author, many whose families fled Cuban because of these events, paint a portrait of the revolution being a bad thing. I tried very hard to remember that many people stayed in Cuba, and that Castro ruled for many, many years and was succeeded by his brother Raul. ANY book about this place and time will be extremely complicated, so it is interesting to see different views like Patterson's My Brigadista Year, Gonzalez's The Red Umbrella, and Cuevas Cuba in My Pocket. It seems a little problematic to me that Manzano, who was raised in New York City by parents who were from Puerto Rico, would be the one to tell this story, but given how complicated the situation is and was, perhaps an outsider's view is helpful? I did enjoy the wide variety of characters represented. 

Told from four different viewpoints, we see events unfold, and the characters intersect in interesting ways. Ana's family has been suffering because their father has been off fighting on behalf of Castro. When he comes home, she hardly recognizes him, but he becomes an important person in Castro's government. She isn't quite as sure that the Revolution is good, but wants to believe her father. When he gets in trouble for writing a letter critisizing the Revolution, he is put in jail. When tragedy strikes, Ana and her mother flee and live with a relative in the US. 

Zulema lives in the country and is part of a group that Ana's father would term guajiro; the peasant farming class. I don't know what the percentage of the Cuban population would fall into this category, but Zulema's family is more concerned with surviving. When people from Castro's government come to their homes and farms and demand they put up teachers in their homes and take classes from them, Zulema and her family are conflicted; she wants to learn to read, but why do the people think they can both push her family around AND tell them that now everyone is equal? One of Ana's friends, whose family also supported Castro, ends up in Zulema's village as a brigadista, working to teach people to read. 

Miguel is a pampered boy whose parents send him to the US as part of Operation Pedro Pan. He is at a school, but when that becomes over crowded, he is afraid he will have to go into foster care. His parents, with whom he stays in contact, are trying to leave Cuba and eventually join him. 

Juan, an Afro Cuban boy whose parents went to the US but were killed in a traffic accident there, is being raised by his grandfather, who runs a fruit cart. His health is failing, and Juan worries about his future. His best friend Paco is heavily invested in being a pionero,  and whole  heartedly supports Castro, but Juan isn't sure about the violence he is seeing that is justified by the Revolution. 

Ultimately, I think this works. While the overall sentiment is slightly anti-Castro, there is a lot of balanced insight into why some people supported the Revolution, or were simply divided about how to feel. This seems realistic. There are many, many books about the Holocaust that are not written by Jewish people from Germany. Is there a space for books about the Cuban Revolution that are not written by people with Cuban heritage? The Holocaust was very black and white; the Cuban revolution is this way to many... on both sides. That's why this is an interesting and well-researched book that could start a lot of conversations about recent history that still affects people's lives. Not everyone will agree with this. 

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