Monthly Archives: June 2016

“Waiting for Snow in Havana – Confessions of a Cuban Boy” by Carlos Eire

This book falls into two of my favorite reading categories – memoirs, and history I “lived through” but may not understand well. The history in question is the Cuban Revolution, which Wikipedia dates to January 1, 1959. Of course, what I remember best is the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. I expected nuclear war.

Carlos Eire is about one year younger than me. His childhood ended at age 11, when he was put on a plane from Havana to Miami, accompanied only by his 15 year old brother.

Waiting for Snow in Havana is an amalgam of memories, highlighting Eire’s parents, brothers, friends, teachers and neighbors. His father was a judge, hence a member of the “establishment”, but not so close to the old regime as to have been immediately targeted for execution by the Revolutionaries. Eire lived a life of privilege and received a good education. Catholicism dominated the culture in many ways.

The decision to send Carlos and his brother to the US on their own was made by his mother, who eventually followed them. His father never left Cuba.

Eire’s childhood memories are dominated by danger and death. Danger, because many of the pastimes and activities would put at contemporary parent into shock – rock throwing as a socially sanctioned game, surfing in rough seas… Death, because so many actions were thought to be deadly – going from a warm room to a cold room, etc.

The book is also permeated by anger, especially at the Revolution, at Castro and Guevara and the changes they imposed on Cuba. Eire is still angry. A quick Goggle search makes it easy to find out the details. Eire knows that his own adult voice permeates the book, although it is intended to express his childhood in its own terms.

If you like memoirs about childhood, read this book. It also sheds (some) light on the immigration and foreign policy issues we now face.

“Full Dark House” and “The Water Room” by Christopher Fowler

These are the first two books in the series about the fictional London “Peculiar Crimes Unit”, also known as the Bryant and May mysteries after the two protagonists.

These are first class mysteries, full of atmosphere and detail.

Full Dark House takes place during the Blitz, and reflects the anguish of a country at war. A German invasion is expected. Civil order is stressed near the breaking point. Deaths in a popular theater need to be solved. Bryant and May are young and inexperienced – the War forces people into jobs for which they are unprepared.

The Water Room takes place decades later, when Bryant and May are past retirement age and the Peculiar Crimes Unit is threatened with dissolution. Crime strikes a neighbor balanced uncertainly between slum status and upward mobility.

Bryant and May represent two different approaches to crime. Bryant is an intuitive and “non-linear” thinker, likely to propose mythical or psychological explanations for human behavior. He cultivates a wide acquaintance among London’s fortune tellers, psychics, witches, cultists and oddballs, sometimes using them to aid his investigations. May represents the “conventional” approach to crime – interview witnesses, seek motives and connections, repeat as necessary. Together, they solve seemingly impossible conundrums.

These books force the reader to confront the question, which am I, logical or intuitive? Given that “logical” is now (at least in theory) mainstream and dominant, how do I incorporate the intuitive into my mental processes? When do I rely on my “intuition”? Important questions! When does intuition slide into prejudice?

I have good friends on both sides of the line. I come down on the “rational” side… mostly. If I was a crime victim and the investigating detective decided to consult a psychic, I wouldn’t be pleased. How about you?

Wikipedia points out that the city of London itself can be considered a “separate character” in the Peculiar Crimes novels. This is especially true in The Water Room. London is built over ancient structures, including enclosed rivers and underground chambers. This historical framework adds a wonderful dimension to Fowler’s writing.

I plan to keep a novel or two from Fowler on my Kindle, against a rainy day or travel delay. Fowler is a very prolific writer. I won’t run out soon!

“The Man in the Iron Mask” by Alexandre Dumas, adapted for staged by Ben and Peter Cunis.

I attended this performance at Synetic Theater in Washington, DC, on June 9, 2016.

As usual, I came to the theater ready to give myself over to whatever was put before me – minimal expectations coupled with willing suspension of disbelief. Give me illusion! I’ll buy in. My other predisposition was to like the show because my nephew (stage name Will Hayes) was performing. So… I walked in with a positive attitude, and I was not disappointed! In fact, I was completely delighted.

The Man in the Iron Mask is pure adventure drama. Good guys, bad guys, intrigue and plenty of action.

Synetic Theater falls into the category of “physical theater”, which I never heard of before. It has a Wikipedia entry, so I guess it really exists… Synetic has produced plays without dialog, most recently a version of Romeo and Juliet. I wish I had seen that!

“Physical theater” (according to Wikipedia) is characterized by story telling that involves physical communication, like dance, stage fighting, gestures or mime. The Man in the Iron Mask featured the first two, along with a “normal” amount of dialog. The dance scenes were beautifully lush, and the stage fighting was the best I’ve ever seen. For sheer energy, this production can’t be topped.

For those not familiar with the novels of Dumas, the plot of The Man in the Iron Mask comes from the end of his Three Musketeers trilogy. The four heroes have drifted apart, one to farming, another to religion, and so forth. Reunited in Paris, they plot to take King Louis XIV from his throne, for the good of the French nation.

Too bad The Man in the Iron Mask will run for just a few more days. But Synetic has an ambitious program scheduled for next year (starting with Dante’s Inferno and ending with Carmen – Bizet is not mentioned) and Washington is not so far away.