Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba

Gjelten, Tom. Bacardi and the Long fight for Cuba: the Biography of a Cause. New York: Viking Press, 2008.

Reason read: January 1st is Triumph of the Revolution Day in Cuba.

Think about this for a second. The Bacardi business started in 1862. When you think “rum” what brand comes to mind first? Exactly.
My favorite takeaway from Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba is how brilliant the Bacardi Moreau family has been at business marketing and self promotion. Early on they knew how to tap into supply and demand during Prohibition. They understood the importance of moral advertising in Puerto Rico, removing women from their posters, for example They knew when to exploit the World’s Fairs happening around the world in places such as Charleston, St. Louis and as far away as Paris. They were involved in any major event that would draw attention. [As an aside, I just finished watching the Tim Burton movie, “Big Eyes” and I couldn’t help but think of mastermind Walter Keane as he exploited his wife’s artwork anyway that he could.] Bacardi treated their employees well with profit sharing as early as 1916. When they couldn’t go to the marketing, the marketing came to them in the form of public figures, such as Ernest Hemingway who put the name Bacardi in his book, Islands in the Stream.
Deeply tied to the Cuban cause, as patriots the Bacardi struggled to make a real difference, but as producers of high quality libations, they flourished. Their drink, the daiquiri was a nod to Cuba Libre. But Cuba was not its own. In 1898 it was either Spain or U.S. flags that were flown. When Spain was no longer in control it was like making deals with devil. The U.S. swoops in and changes everything. Infrastructure is improved but the locals are confused. Then along comes Castro…even he cannot ignore the Bacardi name which causes major trouble for the Bacardi name. Let me stop there. Read the rest of this biography of a beverage.

Last comment: my favorite trivia is the fact that Emilio and Elvira wanted to bring back a mummy from Egypt for the Bacardi museum. It needed to be taxed as “dried meat” in order to make the journey back to Cuba.

Line I liked, “Then he would be left alone with his own soul” (p 79), “the people of Santiago had never before seen a Cuban flag flying over their own city hall” (p 91).

Author fact: Gjelten, at the time of Book Lust To Go’s publication was a reporter for NPR. According to NPR’s website, he’s still there.

Book trivia: I always love it when an author can include the pictures they describe in the text. Gjelten does this a few times and it is always wonderful to see what he captures his attention, to see the pictures through his eyes. Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba includes a good number of black and white photographs.

Nancy said: Pearl called Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba “fascinating.”

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 52).


Moonlight Downs

Hyland, Adrian. Moonlight Downs. New York: Soho Press, 2008.

Reason read: Believe it or not, I have no idea why I started reading this in January.

Emily Tempest is finally home after a long twelve-year absence. Half white and half Aboriginal, she must relearn her place in the landscape; to re-establish old relationships with the community and people she used to love. But, at the same time she is a pesky armchair detective, always poking her nose where it shouldn’t be. When a beloved member of the Moonlight Downs mob is murdered, Emily goes on the hunt to find his killer. It’s personal because Emily has an extra special relationship with the victim’s daughter.
Confessional: all throughout the book, when Emily was fearing for her life I thought it was an exaggeration until a few more people die. The amount of violence towards the end of the book was surprising.
Another confessional: you will appreciate Hyland’s glossary of Aboriginal words in the beginning of the book.

As an aside, I love it when there are little tiny overlaps in my books. I am reading about the Bacardi family in Cuba in another book. In Moonlight Downs a Cuban shows up in Australia.

Confessional: I kept a running list of all the characters I met in Moonlight Downs.

Best and only quote of the book, “As the fury subsided it made room for questions” (p 142).

Author fact: Hyland has lived and worked among the Indigenous people of Australia.

Book trivia: Moonlight Downs is the first Emily Tempest mystery in the series. It was published as Diamond Dove in Australia. As an aside, I am also reading Gunshot Road for the Challenge.

Nancy said: Pearl included Moonlight Downs in a list of more Australian fiction that “absolutely shouldn’t be missed” (Book Lust To Go p 30).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Australia, the Land of Oz: Fiction” (p 29).


Catastrophist

Bennett, Ronan. The Catastrophist: a Novel. New york: Simon & Schuster, 1997.

Reason read: Bennett celebrates a birthday in January.

The underlying theme of this political thriller is the mistiming of love. One is already more ready than the other to give into the insecurities of love…until they are not. Compared over and over to Graham Greene, Bennett’s Catastrophist is character driven and full of political intrigue. Irish novelist James Gillespie tells the story of his journey to the Belgian Congo to follow his Italian girlfriend, Ines. As an ambitious journalist, she is covering the Congolese struggle for independence. Once the passion of her life, now she has little time or patience for James. Meanwhile, his romantic pendulum has swung in the other direction, clinging to a newfound adoration obsession for Ines. I found their relationship to be shallow and self-serving. But, no matter. James gets caught up in the politics and befriends all the wrong people, pushing Ines further away. When she takes up with another man, it appears all hope is lost for reconciliation with James…and yet, James is blindly willing to go to unbelievably remarkable lengths to show his devotion.

Line I really, really liked and just had to quote, “The apartment reeked of our estrangement” (p 160). One more, “He was too absorbed in disguising his own failure, from me, from himself” (p 206).

Author fact: Bennett has written a plethora of other books, but I am only reading The Catastrophist for the Challenge. Additionally, I read somewhere that Bennett had trouble with the law throughout his life, including accusations of murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy.

Book trivia: this should be a movie. There is certainly enough sex and violence to make it a thriller. There was talk of making a movie, but I’m not sure it ever got off the ground.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Catastrophist a “political thriller” and suggested it should be read with Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “African Colonialism (fiction)” (p 15).


Graced Land

Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.

Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.

As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…

Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.

Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.

Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.

Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).


Persuader

Child, Lee. Persuader. Read by Dick Hill. Grand Haven, MI: Brilliance Audio, 2003.

Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of New York becoming a state…

I think this has to be my favorite Reacher story simply because it takes place, for the most part, outside of Portland, Maine. The ocean is always present so right away you can bet Reacher has to tangle with it at some point in the story. Of course he does. [As an aside, my favorite section of Dick Hill’s narrative is when Jack struggles with the ocean for a second time, not learning his lesson the first time around.] But, back to the plot. Reacher gets sucked into a compromising position, this time by his own accord. Ten years ago, a critical investigation went sideways and someone under Reacher’s military command was horrifically murder. Up until present day Reacher had thought the killer was dead by his own hand. He witnessed a demise he thought no one could survive..and yet ten years later here is proof the nemesis not only survived, but is thriving. Revenge is Jack’s motive.
Of course, Reacher wouldn’t be Reacher without an eye-roll inducing romance. This time it’s with a federal agent and I agree with other reviewers when they say it feels like Child threw in the relationship with Duffy because it is simply part of the formula for Reacher’s modus operandi. It was short lived and kind of silly.

As an aside, exactly how is Reacher running around with an Anaconda firearm in his pants? Pun intended?
My other gripe? Lee child has obviously never tried to tie his hair back with a rubber band. If he had, he would know it hurts like hell to take it out! No self respecting woman (or man-bunned hipster) would reach for a rubber band. If a real hair tie wasn’t available, a bread tie or a pencil or even a piece of string would do.
Last gripe. For the most part Child has stayed away from cheesy lines but he let this one slip by, “Gravity had no effect on her perfection.” Gag.

Favorite line – I have to include this line because it’s the first one in the book, “The cop climbed out of his car exactly four minutes before he got shot” (p 1). If that doesn’t grab your attention!

Author fact: Rumor has it, Child spent a lot of money on the publicity campaign for this book.

Book trivia: This is the seventh Reacher book in the series and the last one on my Challenge list. A more specific to the book piece of trivia – the Persuader is a type of firearm and not a reference to Reacher’s personality.

Nancy said: Pearl suggested finishing the Reacher series with Persuader.
Actually, Pearl had more to say about Persuader than any other book. She admits, with nothing else to read, she picked it up out of boredom, but by the first line she was hooked.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lee Child: Too Good To Miss” (p 41).


Son Avenger

Undset, Sigrid. The Master of Hestviken: The Son Avenger. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.

Reason read: to finish the series started in October.

Undset’s fourth and final book of the Master of Hestviken series is about finding forgiveness within one’s true identity.
Olav Audunsson now has a daughter of marrying age. He is dismayed when her first suitor is a teenage boy exiled for accidentally killing a man. History repeats itself as Aslak’s dilemma mirrors Olav’s past mistake, but Olav does not want to acknowledge this in any way. Instead of compassion for Aslak’s situation, Olav convinces his daughter to marry another. In addition, Eirik, the amoral and reckless son Olav has taken for his own has returned to Hestviken. Eirik’s life is also following the same path as Olav’s in that his relationships are troubled. His standing as a moral member of society is compromised. Olav is helpless and can only watch as Eirik struggles to make his way in the world as a decent citizen. Olav, Eirik, and Cecelia all journey towards forgiving one another as well as themselves.

Author fact: Undset also wrote the memoir, Return to the Future, which is on my Challenge list.

Book trivia: The Son Avenger is the last fiction I will read of Sigrid Undset’s.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Son Avenger part of the Master of Hestviken masterpiece.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Norway: The Land of the Midnight Sun” (p 162).


January Jumping

Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
  • Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
  • Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
  • Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!

Nonfiction:

  • Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
  • Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.

Series continuations:

  • Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
  • The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.

Early Review:

  • I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.