Havana: A Subtropical Dilemma by Mark Kurlansky - review by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler

Conquistadors & Cubaneros

Havana: A Subtropical Dilemma


Bloomsbury 259pp £16.99 order from our bookshop

Biographical portraits of cities are in vogue. This lively addition to the genre is essentially a history, beginning with Columbus and the incursions of French pirates and ending with the fortunes of the Industriales, Cuba’s most popular baseball team. A former Latin America correspondent, Mark Kurlansky visited the island regularly in the 1980s and 1990s. At the start of that period, he met Cubans who had known their African-born grandparents: ‘Slavery lasted longer in Cuba than anywhere else in the Americas,’ writes Kurlansky.

It turns out that the Spanish had originally established their capital at Santiago, in the southeast of the island. But Havana was better placed for the all-important trade routes. Leather was initially the mainstay of commerce: the subtropical pasturelands of eastern Cuba produced hides far superior to the

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