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4.3 out of 5 stars41
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 9 December 2008
Having recently returned from a two week independent tour of Cuba with very mixed feelings about the place I was interested to see the dynamic Dervla was bringing out a book on the island.
The first hundred pages are about her experiences while on a tour of eastern Cuba with her daughter and three grandaughters (the trio as she calls them)which I found all a bit too domestic but then for the following three hundred pages we get vintage Dervla as she returns for two solo trips around the rest of the island.
With her usual scorn for modern conveniences she travels by every clapped out means of transport she can find and when she can't find any she just walks. On route, she meets and talks to scores of ordinary Cubans whose views are reported without fear or favour.
The book is laced with a plentiful supply of historical fact and political polemic. While the authors own sympathies for what she calls Castroism are very evident she nevertheless has plenty of criticism for the regimes failings.
This is the real 'rough guide' to Cuba.
Minor criticisms are the poor illustrations and a number of typo errors but I'll lay them at the door of the publisher as Dervla Murphy is a secular saint(of travellers)in my humble opinion.

If you are interested in Cuba, go and buy it.
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on 12 March 2010
I have devoured most of Dervla Murphy's books with great enjoyment. I found this one similar in style to "The Embers of Chaos", her book about the Balkans, in that there is a large amount of historical and political background compared to her usual books - possibly because these two areas require such an analysis due to their complex histories. It made the reading a little heavier than usual, but that's no bad thing.

The book has two sections, the first a charming account of her journey to Cuba with her daughter and granddaughters, the second written after a solo return to the island some months later.

The book does a great job of showing you what life is really like for the average Cuban and reaches past the western anti-Castro propaganda and the green-sea-white-sand sanitized and segregated tourist brochure idyll, presenting a reality that is at odds with and seriously threatened by both of these views.

This is a mature and insightful work of great value. You will not be disappointed.
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on 19 February 2013
I find Dervla refreshing in her determination and I admire the fact that she seems to have simplified her travel needs down to a regular supply of beer!
She seems to embrace discomfort and this seemed to me to be something she felt put her in common with people she met.

I have just returned from Cuba and I was one of the despised package tourists ,staying in a resort on Varadero. We could have had a lovely time without going outside the door but we took the trouble to do some research ,including Lonely Planet and "The Island that Dared" which I am now re-reading. We spent a few days in Havana and spoke to as many people as we could.
Obviously,we didn't get the same picture as Dervla and she doesn't wear rose tinted specs all the time but I did feel her own point of view slightly distorting.
What's wrong with people wanting to be able to afford treats for their children and to make their own lives slightly easier?

In order to round out her picture,she has lifted entire chunks from history books where a footnote would have sufficed so I simply started skipping the history pages.The book contains a comprehensive bibliography for reference.
I think Dervla is at her best where she records her encounters with her honesty and idiosyncratic viewpoint.
She paints a unique picture of an island with an uncertain future.
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on 8 April 2011
This is a superb book for anyone who has been to Cuba or who has an interest in Cuba. It is a travelogue but also much more than that.
Dervla Murphy makes considerable effort to understand the context of this complex and unique island, and that involves sections of historical, political and social analysis, as well as straight-forward - and very enjoyable - passages of travel writing. However it is far from a dull read. It is not a lightweight read, granted, but it reads well, and the historical and political aspects that Murphy looks at only serve to add necessary understanding towards what it is that makes Cuba so unique. Murphy does not attempt to sit on the fence in terms of her own views; this might irritate some, but for me it just adds to the charm of her writing. She is an intelligent and forthright woman without guille, and with a heart and a mind open to the everyday people that she meets and describes so well.
Very few people could do Cuba justice in print as well as Murphy has done here. I've read many of her books, and this, for me, stands up as one of her finest.
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on 10 March 2010
I have now read several of Derlva's books, so am well used to her writing style. Factually, this is a comprehensive history of modern Cuba, mixed with a personal travelogue and a great passion for her subject matter. If you are interested in delving into pre and post revolution Cuba, then this book will give you all the facts you know, whilst painting a picture of the geography and culture of this fascinating island and it's stoical people. My only criticism is that it is a little laboured in parts, but the length of the book is worth the journey of understanding, especially if you have visited Havana or plan to tour the island. Those visitors that choose only to see Varadero get a distorted view of Cuban life.
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on 6 June 2013
This was the 1st Dervla Murphy book I have ever read and I am looking forward to reading more of her books in the future. It's part history, travelogue and political analysis. In the first half of the book Murphy travels with her daughter and three grand-daughters around various parts of Cuba. I have to say I wouldn't have thought reading about 3 generations of Irish women travelling together would be quite so interesting, but it works. Murphy has a sharp eye and a wonderful turn of phrase and describes the built and natural environment of Cuba beautifully. I Particularly enjoyed her descriptions of the Sierra Maestra mountains and wished I could walk through them. Her descriptions of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were also highly memorable.

Murphy peppers her account with relevant and interesting history about Cuba, be it the Spanish Colonial Period, the rise of Fidel and fall of Bastista or the bay of pigs. Of course Cuba's history is far more extensive than these few examples and Murphy covers it all well. It would be remiss of me not to mention politics when reviewing this book. Dervla Murphy nails her colours to mask very early on in the piece. She is a great admirer of Castro and his revolution and has contempt for the US Governments policy towards Cuba and it's continual demonisation of Cuba. Given the cold war ended over 20 years ago I think she probably has a far point. She is also less than enamoured on the whole with the Cuban ex-pat population in Florida. I don't necessarily agree with all of Murphy's analysis when it comes to Castro but she is at least consistent throughout.

This is an excellent travel book written with great flair and conviction. Murphy's not afraid to get stuck in, do the miles and have a cold beer at the end of the day.
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on 8 October 2009
I visited Cuba in 2008 with a Fairtrade organisation and found it a fascinating place. I only wish I had read this book beforehand as it is so informative. There is plenty of the trademark Dervla Murphy wandering about on her own and bumping into people who provide insights into the contradictions inherent in Cuban society. For me there was a new twist in that daughter Rachel appears complete with grandchildren for part of the book. Dervla Murphy provides succinct and even handed accounts of Cuba's history and gives credit for its enormous achievements. She shows understanding of the less attractive elements explaining how much of this has been in defence of continued harrassment and attack from the USA, without excusing the less defensible. She provides detailed accounts of the US interference. She engages with Fidelistas and the Anti- Castro factions within and without Cuba when she visits Miami. All in all a worthwhile and engaging read from this wonderful author.
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on 10 April 2013
Just back from my journey to Cuba, and this is fascinating - very well documented, as well as being full of personal insights and very readable - highly recommended!
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on 22 May 2014
Although you get lots of information about the landscape, towns and interests of the places that Dervla Murphy visits the joy of reading her is to get a very personal reaction to the places she visits and the people she meets. She has a much deeper understanding of cuban politics and more sympathy with the regime, its history and the political support it has amongst Cubans that helped me see the island in a very different light. It does not stop her criticising meaningless bureaucracy but poor transport provision but she gives a very different view from the predominant american one that is generally publicised. Her meetings with a huge variety of people made it fascinating
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on 26 April 2014
Murphy visited Cuba with her daughter and grandchildren, then went back on her own to see more. She is a fiercely independent woman with strong - and well-founded - views on the political situation in Cuba and the impacts of American imperialism. She went at a time when the country was totally impoverished by the US blockade and her reporting of the situation at the time is very informative as well as being very gripping. As a post-script, I would add that the visitor to Cuba now would find the situation much improved as the Cubans have overcome the worst effects of the blockade and are doing much better.
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