Cuba – the very name draws up a whole host of thoughts as a country shrouded by mystery for Americans. To say that I am engrossed with all things Cuba is an understatement. I can’t seem to get enough – whether in form of documentaries, films, articles, or most of all books. So when Julia Cooke’s The Other Side of Paradise: Life in Cuba came across my radar, I just had to pick it up.
I had my reservations going into it – a young white woman telling the story of Cubans from her privileged viewpoint. However, what I enjoyed was the parts where she let the Cuban people she covered speak to their own stories. Sure there are parts where she inserted herself and gave her personal viewpoints but the parts that shine are the stories of real people and real lives in Cuba – and that is what I think Julia Cooke intended.
With United States opening relations with Cuba the fascination with the mysterious island is growing yet, so many are focusing on the island as a whole and not the actual people who’s lives will be forever changed. This book is a nice reminder of that.
There is some Sunday in every Wednesday in Havana, and there’s also a blending of tomorrow and yesterday in today. Havana is a place where everyday existence is so rooted in the present moment, yet thought exists primarily in past or future tenses. Paradise is Cuba’s goal and its context: what the island could be if only; what it once was. But there is no other side of paradise, no way to live in the nostalgic gloss of the past or to start construction of a life on the other side of the limitations of today. Predicting what will happen in Cuba in the next decade is an exercise in humility, because I assume that words on paper will be proven wrong. And so the revision, the recursive exercise that is involvement in Cuba continues.