'Havana Real': a no-frills look at the privations of today's Cuba
In "Havana Real," write and blogger Yoani Sánchez reveals the hard facts of everyday life in today's Cuba.
Special to The Seattle Times
'Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth About Cuba Today'
by Yoani Sánchez
Melville House, 240 pp., $16.95
Cuba is a place "full of tired and aging people," a place where the public clocks stop and are not repaired, a place where "time is worth nothing." So writes Yoani Sánchez, 35, of Havana.
Sánchez is an Internet blogger. She lived for two years in Europe and knows what the world outside the island of Cuba is like. She did not have to go back, but in 2004 she did, vowing to live as a free person no matter what the rules.
Her observations and spirit are in "Havana Real." The book is a collection of entries on her blog, "Generation Y," which is hosted outside of Cuba. She reaches it using computers reserved for foreign tourists, and in other ways. The government harasses her but has not silenced her. The Communist Party remains, but, she writes, the secret police are "not Germans. They neglect their work."
And she defies them. "I raise my skirt a little, and show my legs to the two men who now follow me everywhere," she writes. "I don't forget to smile. Laughter is like hard stones in the teeth of authoritarians."
Her book is a collection of entries of one or two pages. Some are directly political, but most are about ordinary life. She lives with her husband and son on the 14th floor of "our Yugoslav-style apartment building." When its Soviet elevator dies, residents have to walk up. Months later, a new Russian lift arrives and the tenants celebrate. But the elevator isn't properly installed and "now makes horrifying noises."
Food is an obsession. In 2007 President Raúl Castro promised in a televised speech that someday soon every Cuban could have a glass of milk — a product officially available only for old people and children under 7. Sánchez says she would rather listen "to the buzzing of a fly" than a politician's speech, but she remembers the line about the milk. And she notices that the line is cut from the speech printed the next day in the government's newspaper.
She is thin, and eats poorly. A typical dinner, she writes, is rice flavored with bouillon cubes, or with a hot dog. A third of a day's wages buys a black-market egg.
One day a children's brigade comes to her door to confiscate the old-style light bulbs. The new ones cast a pale light and soon burn out. But she has hidden one 40-watt bulb. "It is not that it is a pleasure to waste electricity," she writes, "but I need to believe that I can decide, at least, under which type of light I read, cook, or watch television."
Sánchez's writing is earthy and vivid. It has won international awards, but she has not been allowed to accept them.
"I have a feeling that I will leave Cuba when everyone can leave freely, and not before," she writes. "In the meantime, I will continue to besiege them with my demands, my posts and my questions."
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