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).


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).


Farming of Bones

Danticat, Edwidge. The Farming of Bones. New York: Penguin Books, 1998.

Reason read: Danticat’s birth month is in January. I may have mentioned this before, but she is barely a month older than me.

Danticat has one of those voices that just spills over you in a warm ooze. Be warned, though. She does not shy away from the harsh realities of extreme violence spurred on by dictatorial blind hatred. It begins slowly and subtly; almost a foreshadowing. A Haitian man, walking down the side of the road, is struck and killed by an automobile driven by a man rushing to get to the birth of his grandson. Consider this – the Haitian’s corpse is unceremoniously thrown into a deep and dark ravine to cover up the accident. The Dominican Republican man continues his hurried journey home without a second glance. Days later said-same grandson dies in his sleep and is given an elaborate vigil, an orchid painted casket, and ceremonial burial of grandeur. These two families, the hit and run victim and the newborn babe, share the same level of shock and grief but only one is allowed to fully demonstrate their pain. The Haitian man doesn’t even get a pine casket.
This is just the beginning of Danticat’s tale as we follow Haitian servant Amabelle Desir as she works in a wealthy Dominican Republic household. Life seems to be perfect considering the circumstances and her position in life. She is passionately in love with a cane worker she plans to marry and her employer was once a childhood playmate. They get along and Amabelle is treated well. Enter Domincan Republican dictator Rafael Trujillo and his plan to wipe out the entire Haitian population by mass genocide. Those who can not flee fast enough are subject to horrific torture before being hacked or burned to death. Amabelle’s world is turned upside down when she is separated from her love as she tries to escape the massacre.
The ending was perfect. I won’t give it away, but in order for this book to mean something there was no other ending possible.

Quotes I just have to quote, “Wherever I go, I will always be standing over her body” (p 205), “But some sorrows were simply too individual to share” (p 252), and “You may be surprised what we use our dreams to do, how we drape them over our sight and carry them like amulets to protect us from evil spells” (p 265).

Author fact: Danticat won the American Book Award for The Farming of Bones.

Book trivia: The Farming of Bones is Danticat’s second novel.

Nancy said: Pearl called The Farming of Bones “very political.” Because of the nonfiction elements to the story I would definitely agree.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “The Contrary Caribbean: Paradise and Pain” (p 55).


December Ends

December was the whirlwind it always is. Exams, hiring, and personnel evaluations at work. Christmas cards and wrapping gifts at home. Celebrations with families and friends. The bestie and I had a great time on the last weekend before Christmas shopping. Yes, you read that correctly. We braved the stores on the Sunday before Christmas and had a blast. Kisa and I traveled to South Deerfield, Peaks Island, and Rockland for the holidays. Rockland was an unexpected twist, but it gave us more time with the mom. I didn’t get to all the books on my list. I couldn’t get a hold of the Seuss book to save my life. I should have known better. And, I wasn’t in the mood for Milne. Imagine that. The November Early Review never arrived. No big surprise there. That makes three for the year that didn’t show up. Here are the other books:

Fiction:
Aguero Sisters  by Cristina Garcia
Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
Long Way from Home by Connie Briscoe


Nonfiction:
Art of Travel by Alain De Botton (AB)
Before the Deluge: a portrait of Berlin in the 1920s  by Otto Friedrich
People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons
Saddest Pleasure: a journey on two rivers by Moritz Thomsen
Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (AB)

Series Continuations:
The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset
Without Fail by Lee Child


Short History of Nearly Everything

Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. Read by Bill Bryson.

Reason read: Bill Bryson was born in the month of December. Read in his honor.

When I first started reading A Short History of Nearly Everything I wanted to document every “history” Bryson exposed and explained. I thought it would be fun except for the fact I quickly lost track. Short History starts out simple enough: the history of the atom and an explanation of the inflation theory. In other words, the history of you and the universe respectively. Then there’s a deeper dive into the question of space, the galaxy and our place in the solar system. Somehow we moved onto inverse square law and the weight (literally) of the world. We explore volcanoes and earthquakes and the (un)predictability of natural disasters. Then there are the disasters that are not so quite natural which man insists on taking part like free diving. Then there are the bugs and so on and so forth.
Probably one of the best sections was about the struggle to make Pluto a planet. We determined we had four rocky inner planets, four gassy outer planets…and one teeny, tiny lone ball of ice.
The obvious drawback to reading something out of date is the predictions for the future are now obsolete.
what I have learned from reading Short History is not the what Bryson explains but how it’s explained. The telling is everything.

Quotes I just had to quote. Here is an example of Bryson’s humor, “Being you is not a gratifying experience at the atomic level” (p 5), and “Of course, it is possible that alien beings travel billions of miles to amuse themselves by planting crop circles in Wiltshire or frightening the daylights out of some poor guy in a pickup truck on a lonely road in Arizona (they must have teenagers, after all), but it does seem unlikely” (p 27).

Author fact: I poked around Bill Bryson’s FaceBook page. It’s pretty funny.

Book trivia: I am listening to the audio version read by Bill Bryson. Pearl may think that the book itself shouldn’t be missed, but I say the book actually read by the author shouldn’t be missed either.

Nancy said: Pearl has an asterisk next to A Short History of Nearly Everything as one Bryson book that especially shouldn’t be missed. I said that already.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Bill Bryson: Too Good To miss” (p 36).


Before the Deluge

Friedrich, Otto. Before the Deluge: A Portrait of Berlin in the 1029’s. New York: Harper and Row, 1972.

Reason read: Berlin has a tattoo festival every year in Berlin.

There is a small possibility I will visit Berlin in the next year or so. It is hard to imagine the contrary Berlin of the 1920’s. Beautiful girls dressed in flapper style, kicking it up in glitzy cabarets (a la Louise Brooks, also known as Lulu) against a backdrop of war, and poverty, and influenza ravaged misery. One war was over while another bubbled just below the surface, waiting to burst forth.
The 1920’s was also a great period of scientific inquiry and wonderment. Britain and Germany had been on opposite sides of World War I, but astronomers were not concerned with that detail. Scientists on both sides were single-minded in their desire to study the eclipse. At the same time, the German government saw the benefit of using the new technology of moving pictures to show their propaganda films. Albert Einstein was in his prime.
The most fascinating thing about Before the Deluge is Friedrich’s interviews with people who could remember the height of the 20’s in Berlin. People who were aware events like if the Communists had voted in force, Marshall Paul Von Hindenburg would have never been elected to rule the German Republic. If the weather had been slightly better Hindenburg never would have appointed a young man named Adolf Hitler as Chancellor….

Quote that gave me pause: “Berlin in the winter is never a very cheerful place” (p 36). Even at Christmastime? I have to wonder.

Author fact: Friedrich went to Harvard (born in Boston).

Book trivia: There is a very cool fold out map several pages into Before the Deluge. Much better than inside the front cover of the book.

Nancy said: Pearl says, “you can’t get a better sense of Berlin between the wars than by reading Otto Friedrich’s Before the Deluge.” She then goes on to say it would be interesting to use Before the Deluge as a guidebook to present day Berlin. I don’t think so. Before the Deluge was first published in the early 1970’s. A lot has changed since then…

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the crazy simple chapter called “Berlin” (p 36). Imagine that.


December’s Comfort

December started with an overnight to New York City. This is going to sound strange coming from a girl from a small town in Maine, but I love, love, love the Big Apple. I love the grit and congestion. I love all the food choices (pizza!). Of course I also love the fact I can leave it!
We were there to see Natalie Merchant receive the John Lennon Real Love Award at Symphony Space. A fantastic night! Since we rattled down to the city via rails I was able to get a lot of reading done. Here is the proposed plan for the rest of the month:

Fiction:

  • The Aguero Sisters by Cristina Garcia (EB) – in honor of December being the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had gotten rid of all the “best month to travel to. [location” books but I guess not.
  • A Long Way From Home by Connie Briscoe (EB) – in honor of Briscoe’s birth month being in December.
  • How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss – for Christmas.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne – in honor of the month Eeyore was born.

Nonfiction:

  • A People’s History of the Supreme Court by Peter Irons (P) – in honor of the history of the Constitution. Yes, I know I read this some years ago, but I can’t find the review anywhere, so I am reading it again.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton (EB) – in honor of de Botton’s birth month being in December.
  • A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (EB) – in honor of Bryson’s borth month being in December.
  • Before the Deluge by Otto Friedrich (EB)- in honor of Berlin’s Tattoo Festival which takes place in December every year.
  • Saddest Pleasure by Moritz Thomsen – in honor of Brazil’s first emperor.

Series Continuations:

  • Without Fail by Lee Child (EB) – started in July.
  • The Master of Hestviken: In the Wilderness by Sigrid Undset (EB) – started in October.