What ‘Life in the New Cuba’ Is Really Like: An Interview with Julia Cooke


On NPR, Tess Vigeland, guest host of All Things Considered, recently interviewed author Julia Cooke, author of The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba. As Vigeland explains, Cooke traveled to Cuba as a college student in 2003, and “it so affected her that she returned in 2008 and began a five-year chronicling of post-Fidel society.” [Also see previous post New Book: Julia Cooke’s “The Other Side of Paradise—Life in the New Cuba”.] Here are excerpts from the report and interview (with a link for the full program below).

CookeJulia_web[. . .] Cooke says her first trip helped dissolve preconceptions she had about Cuba. “The media situation here with Cuba is primarily dominated by politics and clichés … and I think actually daily life is much more interesting than I had been led to believe,” she tells “And so I wanted to go back, especially on the verge of this cataclysmic change that was starting to happen — the departure of Fidel from the scene into the background — and find out how things actually functioned.”

Interview Highlights

On the confusing economy of Cuba

In order to get any simple commodity, you have to figure who’s selling it, and who needs to be buying it. So it’s just a matter of spending a lot of time and asking a lot of questions. I think that was one of the things I enjoyed most about being in Cuba was the almost childlike position that it put me in. I had to ask so many questions and be so prepared to have everything — all my preconceived notions — blown out of the water. Things as simple as where to buy fish. You’re on an island. You think there should be fish everywhere, and there aren’t. [. . .]

On American misconceptions about Cuba

I’ve gotten so many comments recently that people are surprised to hear that Cubans don’t hate Americans. And you know, I never met a Cuban who didn’t have a family member of some sort who was living abroad. So Cubans are a much more sophisticated bunch than I think many Americans think they are. And there is zero animosity on the part of the Cuban people toward the American people.

I think that’s one really unique thing about Cuba is that contemporary Cuba is very cognizant of how detached politics is from life. … It’s second nature to them to say, “Your government stinks, but come on in and have a rum with me.”

For full program and transcript, see http://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/301476324/what-life-in-the-new-cuba-is-really-like

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