On the Road From San Juan Hill to Guantanamo
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Pub. Ed. $28.00
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Review by Peter Winn
William Craig grew up with the stories of his great-grandfather fighting in Cuba in the Spanish-American War and always wanted to visit the island and places that these stories conjured up. Unfortunately, by the time he was old enough to do so, US efforts to isolate and undermine Castro’s revolutionary Cuba made that difficult.
In 2005, when Craig planned to retrace his great-grandfather’s footsteps in Cuba and write a book about his experience, Bush-era policies intensifying the US Cuba embargo left only faith-based missions as a way for US citizens to legally travel to the island. So his book begins in the airport in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is trying to enter Cuba with the “Feminine Tones,” an ostensibly evangelical chorus composed mostly of “agnostics, Unitarian Universalists, lapsed Christians, Green Mountain Buddhists, or avid self-taught pagans” from the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire, led by an African-American minister from Alabama, and invited to perform at an international choral festival in Santiago de Cuba, the site of San Juan Hill and the charge of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. But the chorus also includes the indomitable Maricel Lucero Keniston, the daughter of an evangelical revolutionary martyr of the struggle against dictator Fulgencio Batista, whose mother then took her to the United States, where she grew up with a burning desire to reunite with her family in Cuba. Maricel’s extended family provides Craig with authentic Cuban sources, a reason to travel across the island and an excuse to tell other histories and life stories.
Between these two personal threads, Craig presents a history of Cuba, from the Spanish Conquest to Castro’s revolution, along with a history of US-Cuban relations, an account of Cuban religion, an overview of sugar and slavery, and an analysis of the Cuban-Spanish-American War and Cuba’s earlier and later independence struggles. His history of battles won and lost is based on contemporary sources and current scholarship, while his account of Cuban popular religion is particularly interesting, stressing the Afro-Cuban santeria beliefs that are the religion of most Cubans, and taking us into ceremonies where you can almost hear the drums beat.
Craig also seduces the reader with an engaging travelogue. As he makes his way to El Morro fortress in Havana, to San Juan Hill in Santiago de Cuba and to Guantanamo, Craig recounts the history and current state of the places he visits and the people he meets, from Communist bureaucrats to alienated artists, without being captured by either side of Cuba’s polarized politics. It is a history from below recounted by a skilled writer who has the capacity to tell a larger story through the history of a landscape, a building, a monument—or through the window of one extended family—making his book also a revealing and moving portrait of the post-revolutionary Cuba of today.
Hardcover Book : 448 pages
Publisher: Walker & Company ( August 01, 2012 )
Item #: 13-620580
Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 8.25 inches
Product Weight: 19.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)