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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  262 ratings  ·  38 reviews
A true believer is faced with a choice between love for his family and the Cuban Revolution.

Usnavy has always been a true believer. When the Cuban Revolution triumphed in 1959, he was just a young man and eagerly signed on for all of its promises. But as the years have passed, the sacrifices have outweighed the glories and he's become increasingly isolated in his
Paperback, 205 pages
Published March 1st 2009 by Akashic Books
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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Jason Pettus
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

(Important disclosure: Achy Obejas is an acquaintance of mine, and is scheduled to be interviewed for the CCLaP Podcast later this winter; nonetheless, I have tried to write as objective a review of her book here as possible.)

Ah, Cuba! Just the name alone is enough to conjure up a myriad of images in
Jun 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
The first half of this book is great - full of great descriptions that put you in a foreign land. The foreign land is Cuba, of course, but also a place of overwhelming - almost unbelievable - poverty. A place where the main character, Usnavy, refuses to give up on the promise of the great revolution - no matter how little he - or anyone else around him has benefited.

There is such great poverty and glimmers of hope and escape. The primary food - often the only food - is rice. Some find better
Jul 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-lit, fiction
This is the first story Ive read written by a Cuban and taking place in Cuba. I had only very vague and general impressions of Cuba, from snippets of conversation with others, Canadians who have vacationed in Cuba. It is still favoured by Canadians who want a vacation in a sunny spot, with nice beaches. They just avoid the areas outside of the resorts, and so don't have even an inkling about what life is really like there for Cubans.
This book gives a glimpse into that world. The poverty
May 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
First off, this is not a crime novel. I read it anyway.

This slight book is a glimpse into everyday Cuban life. I couldn't help but compare it to two recent books. Like Michael Gruber's The Forgery of Venus, it's a book about authenticity and value. Like James Church's Inspector O novels, it's a slice of life under an oppressive government. In Church's North Korea the government is involved in every facet of people's lives. In Obejas's Cuba the government has ceased to care. The end result for
 Barb Bailey
This book was a very good read. The story tells what it was like to live in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union. There was great poverty, and after Cuba's revolution too much time had passed for the people to have hope that things were going to get better. People were allowed to leave on anything that they could build that would float to escape the poverty , in hopes that they would make it to Florida or Hatti. Over 100,000 people left the island that way. This story is about one family who ...more
Mar 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Really good novel, as it provides a clear-eyed and nuanced view of Cuba during the Special Period with well-developed characters.
Amalie Huggins
Apr 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this for a Latino Lit class. Its devastating. The imagery and glimpses of Cuba are beautiful and tragic, but I hate the ending. It echoes a lot of immigration conversations valid in 2017-2019, and opens your eyes to some realities that are unbearable. However, I dont like any of the characters or the circumstances (and maybe thats the point). Dont read for a happy ending. ...more
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read each line, paragraph, and page with anticipation and foreboding as Obejas took the story through a kaleidoscope of culture, history, politics, and the human psyche. Obejas' descriptions were an enchanting counterpoint to the dark truths at the heart of her story.
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Want more of him!
Mar 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I initially ran across a short excerpt of the writing of Achy Obejas in the exhaustive Cuban Reader and immediately fell in love with her descriptive writing. Her ability to portray a place in words makes it seem almost like you're in the setting yourself. Her brutal honesty, and direct use of symbolism, makes this a very entertaining read. In fact, I finished Ruins in just a couple of days, reading it straight through.

The name of the main character, Usnavy, is very exemplary of how creative
Mar 05, 2012 rated it liked it
Enjoyed this book thoroughly. Learned a good deal about modern Cuba, and was surprised by much of what I did discover, and chagrined to realize how little I know about the country.

I found the character of Usnavy fascinating, and also enjoyed the portrayals of the other figures in the novel. Also appreciated the complexity of themes--Cuba post-Soviet breakdown vs earlier, more optimistic Cuba, the allure of the practical and prosaic vs adherence to revolutionary zeal, the complexity of Cuban
Nov 03, 2012 rated it it was ok
After a few chapters, I knew a lot more about dominos... and Tiffany lamps and the hopeless bureaucracy that summons the pace and the place of Havana- I kept reading... and though, having just returned from Cuba, I enjoyed the descriptions of the Malecón and depiction of poverty through rations and rug sandwiches, I felt the book never really went anywhere. Someone might say, "exactly, a true testament and perhaps living metaphor, reflecting the life and struggle of many Cubans..." but I wanted ...more
Dec 21, 2014 rated it liked it
I was really excited about reading this book, having visited Havana a couple of years ago and having read several glowing reviews. But for me, it wasn't that great. The colorful descriptions of life in Havana for the "have-nots" under the Castro regime are vivid and believable and the main character "Usnavy" really does come to life on the pages. But his doomed struggle to keep believing in the revolution and to provide for his family against all odds somehow did not ignite any empathy or much ...more
Cheryl Klein
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it
Usnavy is a great and sympathetic character. In a parallel universe, he would be an absentminded professor, prone to daydreams and idealism, but in Cuba he's a true believer trapped in poverty as his more pragmatic friends (who aren't opposed to a little black-market capitalism) pass him by. As he investigates his one glamorous possession, an old Tiffany-style lamp, he strangely grows both more practical and more dreamy, realizing its dollar value while chasing after glimmers of broken glass in ...more
Chantel Acevedo
Jul 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Another winner from Obejas. This one gives us an intimate look at Cuba's "Special Period" of the early 90's, a time of tremendous sacrifice, hunger, and yet another mass exodus of Cubans. The protagonist, Usnavy, powerfully controls the perspective (though the voice is 3rd person). My only complaint is that the two primary female characters, Lidia and Nena, are only sketches here, not fully developed, so that when Nena's choices change everything for the protagonist (no spoilers for you), we as ...more
Mar 26, 2010 rated it liked it
I was curious to read this book because of my Cuban heritage and the fact that Obejas is a local author. Lots of good things in it--great descriptions and characterization, interesting details, the reader could really visualize and feel life in 1994 Cuba--but parts felt rushed, as if too many plotlines were introduced but not given the chance to be fully explored (one example is Usnavy's family background and his ethnicity). The ending left me very unsatisfied as well... I don't require neat and ...more
Oct 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! I think one of the reasons why I love literature so much is because of the history behind it. History classes can't cover a time in history like a novel can. I was really relieved to have my frustrations released about Usnavy when he finds out that he's not the person he thought he was. To be honest, I like the real Jewish Usnavy better than the I'm-a-Cuban-and-proud Usnavy. Thankfully, after such a turbulant beginning and middle of the story, there is an open ending ...more
Apr 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
This novel makes me want to learn more about Cuba. Ruins is about an "old" man who was once a young revolutionary. Living in Havana in the early 1990s, he conflicted between his persisting belief in the Revolution and the wasteland that Cuba has become and which nearly all of the Cubans in the novel want to escape. The book ended a little too soon for me, with a family mystery which was never quite resolved, but I still really enjoyed it.
Trina L.
Jun 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
Usnavy, the book's main character, leads readers through Cuba as he seeks to understand the changes occurring in 1994 Cuba when Cubans are leaving the country on anything that will float. His fascination/obsession with his stained glass lamp is transferred to other pieces he finds throughout the city. This is a wonderful, lazy day read.
Claire S
Sounds fascinating! I've always been relatively disconcerted by my ignorance of Cuba, with both its close (and highly negative) relationship to the US and physical proximity. Also am always interested to read of the mistakes of folks who look like me, to continue learning how to be part of the solution instead of the problem.
Jan 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Superb account of daily life in Cuba during the "Special Period." The main character is so skillfully drawn that I soon regarded him as a member of my family. The novel is realistic and sober yet also funny and endearing. I highly recommend it.
Feb 05, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Amidst the ruins, light shines. The juxtaposition of a weakened post-Revolution Cuba and the role of small treasures found in the ruins, creates a stimulating tale of being lost and found. An enjoyable read. My first for this author.
Jun 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
The novel was filled with vivid imagery and had great moments of magical realism, which are jarring since they're unexpected. I felt it was a good blend of lived experiences and secondhand stories about post-Soviet Cuba weaved into a fictionalized account.
Oct 09, 2012 rated it liked it
I knew nothing about Cuba prior to this book. A friend whose parents came to the US from Cuba recommended it. I enjoyed the cultural and political aspects of it. It was slow at some points. The political undertone was neither pro-democracy or pro-communism, but somewhere in between.
Sep 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Found on Enki, to my surprise. A wonderful, little known writer.
hmmm. I'm still trying to figure it out.
Jane Van Hof
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent provocation through color and feeling and light in the prose of this book. The sense of desperation paired with inspiration was enough to allow the pages to turn themselves.
Nov 21, 2009 rated it liked it
Re-read "Old Man and the Sea" before reading this. The symbols will be familiar to you.
Oct 14, 2009 rated it liked it
Interesting insights into life in Cuba. It made me grateful to be dry.
Oct 08, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Rosemary by: Evan
Small sad story of Cuba-Usnavy continues to believe in the Cuban revolution despite the decay and frustration of everyday life.
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Achy Obejas is the award-winning author of Days of Awe, Memory Mambo and We Came all the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This? Her poems, stories and essays have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Akashic's Chicago Noir. A long time contributor to the Chicago Tribune, she was part of the 2001 investigative team that earned a Pulitzer Prize for the series, Gateway to Gridlock. Her ...more

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