New Book: Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s “The Havana Habit”

Gustavo Pérez Firmat’s The Havana Habit (Yale University Press, 2010) explores the intricacies and paradoxes of the ongoing, centuries-old intercourse between Cuba (represented by its capital, Havana) and the United States.

In this provocative book, the author employs a rich array of cultural artifacts that feature Cuban motifs—Hollywood films like You’ll Never Get Rich or The Maltese Falcon, tourist guides such as When it’s Cocktail Time in Cuba and Havana Mañana, musicals (Week-End in Havana), television shows (I Love Lucy), Conrado Massaguer posters, music albums (Nat King Cole’s Cole Español Olé, Mel Tormé’s Tormé, Irving Fields’ Bagels and Bongos, Peggy Lee’s Latin ala Lee, Dean Martin’s Cha Cha Cha de Amor and Dino Latino, and Doris Day’s Latin for Lovers) and individual songs and pieces by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, and Johnny Mercer—to illustrate how Cuban culture has been consumed, reinterpreted, distorted, constructed, and projected through the lens of the U.S. imaginary.

Publisher’s description: Cuba, an island 750 miles long, with a population of about 11 million, lies less than 100 miles off the U.S. coast. Yet the island’s influences on America’s cultural imagination are extensive and deeply ingrained. In the engaging and wide-ranging Havana Habit, writer and scholar Gustavo Pérez Firmat probes the importance of Havana, and of greater Cuba, in the cultural history of the United States. Through books, advertisements, travel guides, films, and music, he demonstrates the influence of the island on almost two centuries of American life. From John Quincy Adams’s comparison of Cuba to an apple ready to drop into America’s lap, to the latest episodes in the lives of the “comic comandantes and exotic exiles,” and to such notable Cuban exports as the rumba and the mambo, cigars and mojitos, the Cuba that emerges from these pages is a locale that Cubans and Americans have jointly imagined and inhabited. The Havana Habit deftly illustrates what makes Cuba, as Pérez Firmat writes, “so near and yet so foreign.”

Gustavo Pérez Firmat is a poet, fiction writer, memoirist, and scholar; he is the David Feinson Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. Pérez Firmat is the author of eighteen books; his study of Cuban American culture, Life on the Hyphen, was awarded the Eugene M. Kayden University Press National Book Award.

For purchasing information, see http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300141320 and http://www.amazon.com/Havana-Habit-Gustavo-Perez-Firmat/dp/0300141327

For full reviews, see (in English) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703440004575548083061061168.html and (in Spanish) http://www.librosdelcrepusculo.com/2011/02/fantasia-habanera.html

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