By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
This approach accounts for both the overwhelming strength and the nagging weakness of this book. Bardach doggedly tracks down, corners and interviews just about every major player in this half-century-old drama: Castro, his exiled sister, his brother-in-law (now a right-wing U.S. congressman), the father of one of Castro's once-most-trusted aides who was purged and executed a dozen years ago, the gangsters who monopolize exile politics, both sides of EliÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez's family, dissidents here and in Havana, policymakers, the cronies of Jeb Bush, the self-congratulating terrorists who in the name of anti-Castroism blew up an airline two decades before anyone heard of Osama, and dozens of others who make up this schizophrenic historical mosaic.
She never hesitates to ask the most uncomfortable questions, and the end product is a steaming pot of curdled personal ambitions, rivalries, jealousies and betrayals stewed with the volatile intrigue of international geopolitics. It's hard to get any closer to either Fidel or his now-deceased archrival Jorge Mas Canosa than Bardach does.
THE ONLY REAL FLAW IN THIS WORK IS THAT THIS decidedly non-political, non-ideological approach to matters tends to downplay, well . . . the politics. Plumbing the psyche of policymakers can give us valuable additional insight into their politics, but almost never serves as a full explanation. There are compelling economic, social and (in Cuba's case) security factors that also shape such tormented histories as that between the U.S. and Cuba over the last five decades, and many of these are simply overlooked in Cuba Confidential.
On the other hand, scholarly and not-so-academic treatments of this subject abound and continue to reproduce with no letup. Since the summer nearly a half-dozen major books have appeared on things Cuban, and some -- like Julia Sweig's Inside the Cuban Revolution -- offer valuable glimpses back into just how Cuba came to revolt in the first place. But of all these newest entries on the Cuba shelf, Bardach's book stands out as the one that gets us closest to the heart -- if not the mind -- of the matter.
The Cuba specialist Saul Landau, upon returning from a recent visit to the island, remarked that Cuban society today is like a big airliner that circles and circles and circles some more. Can it find a way to safely land, and if so, where? Or will it simply and horribly crash? Bardach grabs our hands and ushers us right into a front-row first-class seat. To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seat belts -- it's going to be a bumpy flight.
CUBA CONFIDENTIAL: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana By ANN LOUISE BARDACH | Random House | 417 pages | $26 hardcover