Title: Habana Libre
Author: Tim Wendel
Release date: May 2013
Source: Review copy
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Pilar has everything a young Cuban woman could want: she’s the most beautiful and talented performer at a luxe resort; she’s newly married to Omar Silva, Cuba’s star baseball player; and her uncle is one of the most prominent businessmen in the country. But she wants more. She dreams of a life outside of Cuba, in “El Norte,” and she will do anything to get there.
Habana Libre is a stirring, poetic account of Pilar’s bid for freedom—and the effect her plans have on her family, her new husband, and the boy she recruits to help her escape. Can she build a new life through willpower alone?
As Pilar herself reflects on her journey:
How could she explain that she didn’t really know? That the only thing she was certain about was that what lay out there, ahead of them, would be better than what they had left behind in Cuba. That she had believed such things for a long time and now was determined to make them so.
It feels a little cliché to write this. But the theme and the style of the book—independent main characters leaving Cuba in a small craft; a novella written in terse prose and powered by emotional heft—instantly bring to mind Papa Hemingway. I know, I know, such comparisons have been made enough times to render them nearly useless. But this book, although different in its characters and arc, reminded me of nothing more than Old Man and the Sea.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novella; my only complaint was that I wished it were longer! But Wendel has written about Cuba before, so I’m going to explore his backlist more.
Quotes of Note:
Loot. It was all that life often was, and the key was how it was divided up.
[I]n teaching him how to sail, Señor Pena had revealed how the world really worked. That there were forces out on the ocean that people couldn’t see, but anybody can use them to his advantage if he watched and waited for his chance.
* Note: I know the author, but that relationship did not affect my view of the book.