One-Minute Book Reviews

October 7, 2008

Drinking in a Family’s History: Tom Gjelten’s ‘Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:44 pm
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. Viking, 413 pp., $27.95.

What it is: A history of the Bacardi rum family, intertwined with that of Cuba, from its founding in 1862 through Fidel Castro’s resignation and his brother Raúl’s succession in February 2008.

How much I read: About 40 pages: the preface, last chapter, acknowledgments, and other parts, including those about Ernest Hemingway and the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Why I stopped reading: Not many books about successful businesses give a rich social, historical and human context for the stories they tell. Gjelten aims to do that in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. And he succeeded in the sections I read: They were interesting and well-written and may help to nudge this book onto some “best of the year” lists. I didn’t have enough interest in rum and Cuba to spend eight or nine hours with the story, the amount of time it might take me to read 400 pages. But I’d consider giving this book as a gift to a fan of serious, thoughtful nonfiction about recent history or international affairs.

Best line in what I read: The first: “A bottle of white Bacardi rum sold in the United States bears a small logo – mysteriously, a bat – and a label that says ‘Established 1862.’ Just above the dates are the words ‘PUERTO RICAN RUM.’ There is no mention of Cuba.
“The Bacardi distillery in San Juan is the largest in the world, but the Bacardis are not from Puerto Rico. This family company for nearly a century was Cuban, cubanissima in fact – Cuban to the n th degree.”

Worst line in what I read: Gjelten says that when Fidel Castro collapsed at an outdoor rally in June 2001, the Cuban foreign minister shouted to the crowd, “¡Calma y valor!” He translates this as, “Stay calm and be brave!” Why not just “Calm and brave!”? And Gjelten ends by commenting on a Bacardi family member’s 1907 view that Cuba needed a leader “who is just and truly loves his country”: “A century later, Cuba needed that leader more than ever.” “More than ever” is a cliché that’s fine in everyday conversation but weakens the ending of a book. And the problem with most dictators isn’t that they don’t love their countries – it’s that they love them too much and value them above other things that are equally important, including human rights.

Editor: Wendy Wolf

Published: September 2008 www.amazon.com/Bacardi-Long-Fight-Cuba-Biography/dp/067001978X.

Furthermore: Gjelten is a correspondent for National Public Radio and panelist on Washington Week. He also wrote Sarajevo Daily.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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