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The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  478 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Change looms in Havana, Cuba's capital, a city electric with uncertainty yet cloaked in cliché, 90 miles from U.S. shores and off-limits to most Americans. Journalist Julia Cooke, who lived there at intervals over a period of five years, discovered a dynamic scene: baby-faced anarchists with Mohawks gelled with laundry soap, whiskey-drinking children of the elite, Santería ...more
Paperback, trade paper original, 248 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Seal Press
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  478 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Aug 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Cooke reports on life in Cuba from the perspective of the 20 something generation - their frustrations, hopes and desires. I am fascinated with Cuba but I was a bit disappointed in this book - perhaps because of Cooke's meandering style and her limited focus.
Julia Cooke
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)
Pride should start at home, right?
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"Havana was a woman who had once been renowned for her beauty until hard times had soured her. Her hand had gotten heavy with makeup application; her necklines had crept down; her beauty was tainted with vulgarity. But sometimes, when she was alone, after she'd taken off her makeup, she danced in her garden, bare-faced and barefoot, to an old bolero, and the old elegance appeared, normal as a Tuesday evening."

I came across this book in NetGalley and was able to get an early copy for review, happily sin
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book will suck you in. The author has an incredible eye for detail and, using all five senses, manages to bring Havana right to you, whether it's the ocean breezes that float through Elaine's kitchen window or the noises of G Street or the sharp zing of cakes made without the luxury of butter (because it's being sold on the black market, yo). This isn't a book about traveling, or politics. It's a book about the individuals who grow up in Cuba, the young adults who all love their home and ye ...more
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Subtitled, “Life in the New Cuba,” this book was written by author Julia Cooke, who first visited the country in 2003 when she was twenty and who returned many times – most notably in 2009, when after many visits, she actually moved to Cuba for several months to research this book. The author was interested in what it was like to grow up in Havana as the last generation of Cubans raised with Fidel Castro in charge of their country. Although Cuba has welcomed tourists, most Cubans have not travel ...more
Dec 17, 2014 rated it it was ok
Enjoyable and interesting, but only to a point. On the upside, Julia’s experiences and stories are more intimate and engaging compared to some broad overview you might read in a magazine or newspaper. On the other hand, I didn’t really learn much, outside of what I already knew of Cuba (which wasn’t much to begin with).

About a third of the way in I kinda felt like I got everything I was gonna get out of the book: people are surviving and living their lives the best they can. Some are
Christina Quintana
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
"In Cuba, you were free to choose your fate until it bumped into the country's fate. Then you were invited to make your destiny elsewhere."

THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is a love song to Cubans, those who continue to call the island home, and those who speckle the rest of the world. It is a deeply human exploration of a familiar youth culture, made unique by the strikingly particular circumstances of the island under one Castro, and then another.

Cooke's book provides the opportunity to
Lenny D
May 31, 2019 rated it liked it
Cuba is adored by a certain kind of American—self-starter educated young white women, in my experience—as a land of hidden romance. I’m not positive why. It might be the literal romance proposed to them nonstop by well-groomed men, or the spiritual fullness of a data-free zone, or the great weather, or the general eroticism of Havana’s beautiful ruin. Whatever it is, Julia Cooke caught the bug.
Sometimes there was something of relief in the surrender that Havana forced on privileged foreigners. You co/>
Nov 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I have always wanted to go to Cuba. I love reading books by folks who've been embedded in a culture that I'm curious about. Julia Cooke is an excellent writer. Chapter by chapter she profiles different people that she knew over many years of living in Cuba. There is an engaging prostitute, the artist who shifts from entitlement to consciousness of his privileged position and the young woman who was trained as a journalist and ended up doing social service teaching Spanish to Chinese students. Th ...more
A well-written book about a society that is as captivating as it is bizarre. I assume the title is a nod to F.Scott Fitzgerald's "This Side of Paradise," which, if i'm remembering correctly, also chronicles a "lost generation." I still don't feel like I have a clear picture of what Cuba is like at this very moment and the changes that have been made (not sure what book I should read for that), but this is a remarkable (and disturbing!) look of what life has been like for the last generation of C ...more
Ann Tonks
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
To begin with I was slightly put off by the tone of this book. A story of an American living on and off in Cuba who interviews the people she lives with or meets offered some interesting insights into the life in this semi-failed state. But the language was quite hyperbolic and somewhat off putting until I just let it go and was seduced by the story telling. Goths and gays, prostitutes and professionals, those resigned to staying and those desperate to leave - all stories worth hearing.
Jul 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this book while I was in Cuba on a holiday, and enjoyed it very much. Cooke writes evocatively, uses all 5 senses (as another reviewer notes) and has a clever structure, taking a small Cuban selection of characters to explore various aspects of life in (almost) contemporary Cuba. The only reason I give it 4 rather than 5 stars is that, despite its name, it really doesn't say much about other parts of Cuba, just Havana.
Dan Freeman
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Great profiles of Gen-X age people in Cuba, waiting (patiently or not) for change to come to this land lost in time. Colorful, magazine-essay style accounts of a variety of characters that help explain contemporary Cuban life. While not useful as a travel guide, it was great to read while I visited Cuba in April, 2017.
Nov 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
It was okay. I was headed to Cuba and read this on recommendation of an article I read, but it was just okay. And it didn't really dovetail with my experience, but to be fair, this isn't a Foreign Tourist on Vacation for Nine Days sort of account.
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Cook does a masterful job of showing what life, with all its complexities, has been like for young Cubans over the last decade or so. She neither sugarcoats nor romanticizes, but her genuine affection for Havana and its people shines through.
Rebecca Dougherty
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
I hope Cooke is still traveling to & writing about Cuba, because I'm interested to read her perspective on the continued changes happening. This book along with Mark Kurlansky's have been very interesting from the perspective of Westerners who have traveled to & lived there for years.
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
An outsider who presents a sympathetic view of everyday life in Cuba as it emerges from a controlled economy reliant on outside benefactors to a economy which will have winners and losers as it adapts to "capitalism" to survive
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
An insightful and thoughtful look at the lives of young adults in Havana in the 21st century.

I'm heading over to Cuba in a couple weeks and I'm so excited!! This book only added to that :D
Chris Fong
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Almost gave it 5 stars. Beautiful portrait of modern-day Cuba. Wish I would have read it while there.
Kate Thompson
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cuba
Beautifully told and a fascinating look at Cuba in the 21st century
Cindy Wyatt
Jun 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Interesting book about living in Cuba
Terry Dullum
Jul 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent little history.
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent and faithful depiction of life in Cuba as we witnessed it in March of 2017
May 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Thinking about Cuba as an American is tricky, as author Julia Cooke readily acknowledges through this first hand account of a rapidly changing Cuba told through profiles of various genX Cubans who were born after the revolution and grew up in an economically stagnant and culturally isolated Cuba.

The book parallel's the author's year in Havana, and each chapter tells the story of people she met there. This includes Lucia the 25 year old casa host who hangs out with cool-seeking "miki"
Mar 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: cuba, nonfiction, travel
The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the new Cuba by Julia Cooke was the perfect companion on my trip to Cuba. The book lays out the harsh reality of life in Cuba by focusing on various individuals over the span of a few years. There is very little opportunity in Cuba. The government employs all comers, but the salary is so low that most people have to work two jobs just to provide the basics. People who can leave, do. Cuba is bleeding young people. There is nothing much to keep them there - no e ...more
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was ok
First of all, the title. "The other side of paradise", really? Who actually believes that Cuba is paradise? Cubans might have learned this in school but literally no one who this book is targeted to believes that Cuba is paradise.

Secondly, I do not trust the author's judgement for one second. This is most obvious in her depiction of Sandra, the prostitute from Havana. Cooke is hesitant to contact her at all. She doesn't tell us why but it's clear to the reader that she's scared of prostitutes a
Imogene Drummond
Jul 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
THE OTHER SIDE OF PARADISE is an intimate, intriguing chronicle of a culture normally hidden from most U.S. citizens. Author and journalist Julia Cooke closely and dispassionately looks at the lives of our neighbors south of us in the Caribbean Sea, and examines how the Castro brothers and the U.S. embargo affected them. This is a fascinating portrait of the resilience of the human spirit.

Cooke writes about her experiences, first as a U.S. college student and later as a journalist, in Cuba. She
Tom Romig
Apr 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Grow up under Fidel, enter adulthood under Raul…make plans to leave Cuba. Over a five-year period, Ms. Cooke befriended a number of young Cubans and here tells of their lives and prospects. President Raul Castro's receptiveness to President Obama's overture towards normal relations may lead to gradual changes in economic opportunity for all Cubans, though political change is less likely. Wouldn't it be ideal if Cubans could maintain their considerable strengths while expanding opportunity and fr ...more
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Great book on a great topic. Fascinating to see what Castro's government has wrought on this age group.
Julia's experience and insights offer a different perspective from all the pro or anti Cuban governmental spin out there. The lives that are lived, the hopes and dreams of people... they're portrayed in this book much more realistically. Having an inside track and being as open to new experiences as Julia seems to have been was a godsend for the purpose of this book. Without the connections th
Jul 05, 2014 rated it it was ok
This is a very strange book. It is labeled non-fiction but it reads like a mixture of autobiography and novel. The author is too opinionated to be a reporter. She discussed the wardrobe of each character in detail each time we met them. She talked about how hard their lives were and how that led to a lack of ambition.

I have been fascinated by Cuba for a long time. And I do not see it as a tragic place in comparison to Rwanda or even Appalachia. Even under the repressive regime of Castro, Cubans
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