Lately I’ve become aware that I’ve been in a ‘reading rut’ in that I’ve only been reading fiction and often in the same genre too.
To get out of this rut, I’ve been reading some travelogue style books. Three books in particular stand out. They are:
A Blonde Bengali Wife by Anne Hamilton
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, and
Slow Train to Guantanamo by Peter Millar.
It is this third book, Slow Train to Guantanamo that will be the focus of the blog post today.
Peter Millar has worked for Reuters, the Telegraph group and the Sunday Times as a foreign correspondent. For the latter he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and was named Foreign Correspondent of the Year. he is also the author of three thrillers as well as a travel book, All Gone to Look for America, and 1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in it’s Downfall.
Cuba is an island more than a thousand kilometres long and was sixth in the world to have a national railway system. In 1958 it had more cars and colour televisions per head of the population, than any other, save the U.S. However, today, Cuba feels like a nation at the end of a long hard war. Damaged by the American blockade, with a communist system that has delivered first-class health care but atrocious standards of living. Most of its population are more used to getting around on horse-drawn carts, clapped out Cadillacs, rickshaw taxis or in the dirty overcrowded buses.
For this book, Peter Millar jumps aboard a train, part of a railway system that was once the pride of Latin America and is now a gravely injured casualty case, ready to undertake a railway odyssey across the length of Cuba , in the dying days of the Castro regime. He starts in the romantic but ramshackle capital of Havana, once dominated by the U.S Mafia and travels with ordinary Cubans sharing anecdotes, life stories and political opinions. His journey ends at the far end of the island where it meets a more modern blot of American history with the Guantanamo naval base and detention centre. Peter Millar may not have all the answers but he asks a lot of questions on an anarchic, entertaining and often comic adventure. A journey everyone will want to read about but not emulate!
I thought I knew about Cuba, but after reading this book I knew I’d only known half the story. Peter Millar allows the ordinary Cubans to tell their story. The humour is delightful and well judged and as a reader I felt I’d been on the journey with him. It is published by Arcadia Books and is available at all good bookshops.
Many thanks to Arcadia Books, for their help with this post.