Skip to Main Content

Waiting For Snow In Havana


A childhood in a privileged household in 1950s Havana was joyous and cruel, like any other-but with certain differences. The neighbour's monkey was liable to escape and run across your roof. Surfing was conducted by driving cars across the breakwater. Lizards and firecrackers made frequent contact. Carlos Eire's childhood was a little different from most. His father was convinced he had been Louis XVI in a past life. At school, classmates with fathers in the Batista government were attended by chauffeurs and bodyguards. At a home crammed with artifacts and paintings, portraits of Jesus spoke to him in dreams and nightmares. Then, in January 1959, the world changes: Batista is suddenly gone, a cigar-smoking guerrilla has taken his place, and Christmas is cancelled. The echo of firing squads is everywhere. And, one by one, the author's schoolmates begin to disappear-spirited away to the United States. Carlos will end up there himself, without his parents, never to see his father again.

Narrated with the urgency of a confession, WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA is both an ode to a paradise lost and an exorcism. More than that, it captures the terrible beauty of those times in our lives when we are certain we have died-and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.

Reader's Group Guide
1. Early on, we encounter the author's loss of innocence, as political tensions begin to explode in violence and threaten the almost idyllic world of the Havana elite that Eire inhabits. But even in that idyll, as the author takes part in normal childhood exploits, there is a sense of pleasure and danger resting hand in hand -- a powerful concoction. How do these lessons of Eire's early youth serve him during the dramatic changes of his young adulthood?
2. How does memory work in Eire's story? How do memories of pleasure and of danger live in him? Do they reconcile each other, or does one trump the other in the end?
3. History -- particularly the violence of the past -- plays a big part in Eire's parents' imaginations and in how they choose to live. They refer to themselves as Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and their house is full of objects that project a powerful, almost living sense of Christ's suffering. Then modern violence disrupts the family. How do they both use the lessons of Christ and their "past lives" or alter egos to act in the present crisis?
4. Eire uses lizards to embody "perfect metaphors" in his memoir. Lizards are often passive, most often despised, and always pitiful victims of others' misguided exercises of power. And yet it is a species of great resilience, powerful in its presence in Cuban lives. Who and what is the lizard ultimately in Eire's imagination?
5. Some readers will understand this as a tale of the innocent victim (because Eire is a child), of a necessary, however flawed, stake at justice for the victims of the Batista regime and of colonialism, as many Black Cubans are the very near descendants of slaves. Eire speaks of how his family profited directly from others' suffering. And then the tables are turned. How do you reconcile the grievances of both groups? Is the author able to transcend his sense of personal rage? How might writing be his own intimate stake at justice?
6. Justice is something passionately sought by many in his family: by his aunt who is a consummate activist; by his father, the judge and Louis XVI incarnate; by his uncle who offers an ultimate insult in the face of the firing squad. How do they inform Eire's struggle?
7. How do you piece together Eire's deep and complicated sense of rage for his father, who is symbolized by and is a symbol for his fatherland?
8. Eire is keenly aware of race and color. But he does not have a true understanding of the psychological and economic costs of racial/ethnic bigotry and oppression until he is on American soil, where he becomes poor and a "Spic." What does he do with this new understanding?
9. Eire reveals his anger and contempt for his adopted brother Ernesto who, though it is somewhat cryptically relayed, has sexually molested him. He says that the revelation of this abuse causes his father to turn against him, in favor of Ernesto. These events coincide with Castro's revolution and his sense of violation by his fatherland. This is followed by his father's more ultimate act -- feverishly collecting personal treasures -- artifacts -- as he passively allows his sons to be swept away from him. It is a struggle that is resonant with Biblical events and almost Biblical in proportion. What do you make of this difficulty of reconciling such deep and inseparable betrayals?
10. Eire talks about his parents' different legacies: his mother is the daughter of Spanish émigrés, conceived on their transatlantic passage, while his father's family has been rooted in Cuba for many generations. His mother's impulse is to be forward-looking, privileging the modern, and, as its symbol, the American. His father "favored the past, fought against the present, ignored the future." How do these impulses play out in the family's ultimate dissolution?
11. The author struggles with the past, seeking understanding in Biblical ideas, and in the idea he introduces on p. 64 -- that conflict and journey are inevitable and are sparks of love. In the end, do you feel he is to achieve this reconciliation? What lessons do we learn that may help us in our own struggles to come to terms with the tragedies in our own lives?
Jerry Bauer

Carlos Eire was born in Havana in 1950 and left his homeland in 1962, one of fourteen thousand unaccompanied children airlifted out of Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan. After living in a series of foster homes, he was reunited with his mother in Chicago in 1965. Eire earned his PhD at Yale University in 1979 and is now the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with his wife, Jane, and their three children. 

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (December 11, 2012)
  • Length: 320 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781471108358

Browse Related Books