Fidel Castro is dead. I can’t say RIP. Coincidentally, I just finished reading Lights Out: A Cuban Memoir of Betrayal and Survival by Dania Rosa Nasca. Dania spent her childhood in Cuba under Castro and despises him for what he did to her homeland and her family. Her parents supported Castro’s revolution to depose Fulgencio Batista’s harsh rule and supposedly end dictatorship. Batista may have been a controlling dictator, but life was still good for the people, although it is likely things were going downhill due to corruption.
A charismatic Castro promised to bring back “the rule of law established by the republic’s constitution,” and became the people’s savior. Instead, he imposed a totalitarian government. Dania’s mother was traumatized by this betrayal and its effects and then by leaving her beloved elderly mother and other family behind to escape in 1970 on a US-sponsored Freedom Flight. She gave her children a better life, but was left mourning the past, “Mi Cubita, mi Cubita, how I loved you and how I lost you.”
I wanted to read Lights Out because I didn’t know much about Cuba, and the country is in the news these days due to renewing relations with the US after years of embargo to punish Castro. Of course, Castro wasn’t hurt by the embargo but his people were. Dictators and their henchmen always live well while the regular people suffer. Ms. Nasca details how a diverse population and thriving economy (based on sugar cane) spiraled down under Castro, while he touted to the world Cuba’s healthcare improvements and racial harmony. According to Ms. Nasca, the healthcare improvements were for the elite followers while already good healthcare for the masses disintegrated. And racial harmony had existed before, but now “Judas goats” were spying on others regardless of race and reporting “bad” behavior to the authorities in return for favors.
Lights Out was a fast read for me, fascinating and unpleasant to learn how Castro fooled his followers and how communism works—or doesn’t. How more people might have escaped on Freedom Flights except they didn’t want to abandon their young male relatives who were all forbidden to leave. Dania combines her own childhood experiences with stories from her family and friends and with lots of research (sources documented in the end notes). She is definitely bitter at the loss of what Cuba once was, before Castro’s takeover in 1959. I did a little research of my own to find complicated Cuba was not all rosy before, but Castro definitely turned things dark. He won’t be forgotten, but now there is a light of hope as his brother Raul may feel more free to implement more changes to unburden his people.
“Soon there will be no one to remember the character of our street or of Cuba before Castro.” With her memoir, Lights Out, Dania has done her part to capture the lived history and culture of a country she and her family loved long ago. I highly recommend reading this book.
Gloria Estefan on Fidel Castro’s death
Reactions to Fidel Castro’s death
Thank you. I’m full of gratitude for such a beautiful and honest review.
I forgot to ask. Are you able to post this review on Amazon and or Goodreads?
Done, Dania – I’ve been a little busy lately! I’m so glad you wrote this book. I see from all the comments now that Castro died that some people believe all the Cuban people had great “free” healthcare and education under Castro. If that were true, not sure if they think harsh rule and loss of freedom is a good price for that.
Great review of a book about tough stuff. You’ve captured my interest!
Thanks, Sharon. This book was so gripping that I finished it in 3 days, which is saying a lot as I don’t have time to read much other than news reports. I didn’t want to put it down.
I’ve been struck since Castro’s death at what seems a dearth of comments or opinions on it, so I was pleased to come across your post earlier today. I have to say I’ve spent 50 years hearing contradictory stories of life there. As result I’ve developed a curiosity about the land and have wanted to see it for myself since my days in college. Of course, that’s been nearly impossible until now. I’ll be taking my grandson with me over New Year’s and hope to get a few blog posts out of the experience. Thanks for the opportunity to go public with my plans.
Great, Janet! I will be interested in what you experience there, hopefully not just what the government will allow you to see or hear. People in the cruise ship business have told me visitors are not to be called “tourists” but “passengers,” and they are to do “people to people” work through tours or organizations or to schedule full days of educational work on their own – no lolling on the beaches. We’ll see how things loosen up.
Thanks for a thought provoking review, Linda. Like your mother”s memoir, about a woman whose childhood was ripped apart by war, books about the Cuban Revolution and subsequent exile tear at one’s heart. For a couple of other good ones on a similar subject, see Carlos Eire’s two memoirs (Waiting for Snow in Havana and Learning to Die in Miami), and Lorenzo Martinez’s memoir Cuba Adios.
Jerry Waxler, author of Memoir Revolution
Thanks for stopping by, Jerry, and for the extra reading suggestions. It’s good to read other perspectives. I have heard from a couple people who like the idea of socialism (and would not read this book) that this author and the Florida Cuban refugees are just rich people angry they lost their property, and that Castro did great things for the poor. Maybe we’ll soon get more stories coming from Cuba.