Article by keaton

by Keaton Patterson

No great work of literature exists in a vacuum, and all reading leads to...you guessed it, more reading. In “Further Reading,” Keaton picks one great book and discusses all the other books it leads him to.

The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway's Ghost in the Last Days of Castro's Cuba Cover Image
Unavailable from Brazos Bookstore
ISBN: 9781250043702
Availability: Out of Print - Not Available for Order
Published: Picador - June 9th, 2015

Brin-Jonathan Butler is a man of obsessions. As a child, to avoid horrendous bullying and his family’s legacy of alcoholism and suicide, he escaped into his love of literature and boxing—passions that would last a lifetime. Books showed him a world of possibilities beyond the narrow prospects of his troubled upbringing. Boxing let him imagine a sense of pride and discipline he’d never known in his own life.

As you’d expect, this dual love of books and boxing quickly led young Butler to Hemingway. From there, it was a natural progression for him to become enamored with Cuba. Like most kids of my generation, raised during the Cold War’s protracted denouement, the small Communist country less than 100 miles from American shores captured his imagination completely. Why did Hemingway—the lion of modern American fiction—spend the waning years of his life there, writing his final masterpiece and even helping aid the revolution that would ultimately send him packing? Why did so many Cubans choose to leave their beloved home with no chance of ever returning? Why did so many choose to stay? Why did such a small island nation exert such an immense psychic hold on the rest of the world? These were all questions that would never be answered without visiting. So, when the opportunity for an open-ended trip to Cuba presented itself, Butler jumped at the chance. With no contacts to aid him and no plan other than meeting the actual “old man” from THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA and training with Cuba’s bevy of olympic champion boxers, Butler boarded a plane, beginning an odyssey that would last nearly ten years.         

As the product of this journey, THE DOMINO DIARIES is far more than a travelogue or sports memoir. While boxing is the centerpiece of Butler’s pursuits, it’s through the lives of boxers (and other Cuban athletes) that he explores the strange relationship between Cuba and America, and between Cuba and Cubans. Hands down, Cuba produces the most world class fighters of any nation. Yet, they are forbidden by the Castro regime from ever turning professional and live in poverty like the majority of their comrades. Of course, it is well known that many Cuban boxers do defect to America in order to pursue their dreams, but far more decide to forego potential millions and remain. It is this impossible choice that fascinates Butler. And THE DOMINO DIARIES will fascinate any reader with an interest in culture, politics, literature, sports, and the ways they intertwine.

Over the course of his time in Cuba, Butler interviewed locals, expats and experts for THE DOMINO DIARIES. Even though (unapproved) books are banned in Cuba, it has one of the highest literacy rates of any nation, and Cubans are just as fanatical about literature as they are about sports. Numerous books related to Cuba are mentioned to Butler in passing or consulted by him during his research. So, if you’re interested in all things Cuba, here’s some further reading to consider: 

Old Man and the Sea Cover Image
ISBN: 9780684801223
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Scribner - May 5th, 1995

For Whom the Bell Tolls Cover Image
ISBN: 9780684803357
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Scribner - July 1st, 1995

There is no American more revered in Cuba than Ernest Hemingway. The literary legend spent nearly a third of his life in the country, only leaving his storied Finca Vigia estate after the revolution made it impossible for him to stay. Still, to this day he is fondly remembered. Castro himself is a fan of Papa, and he even studied FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS while waging his guerilla war against the Batista regime. Several other locals and fellow travellers Butler meets are also seen reading the famous war novel. However, none of Hemingway’s works are more synonymous with Cuba than THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA. His love for the Cuba is apparent in every word of this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel—Hemingway’s last—effortlessly capturing the natural splendor of the island nation and the indomitable heart of its people. It is an unabashed classic, a near perfect book that everyone should read.  

Invisible Cities Cover Image
ISBN: 9780156453806
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Mariner Books - May 3rd, 1978

Upon a rendezvous with one of Castro’s granddaughters, she asks Butler if he has ever read Calvino’s INVISIBLE CITIES. For her, the Cuban-born Italian writer’s surreal ruminations on the way certain locales ingrain themselves within our consciousness—structured as a dialogue between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan—is the perfect metaphor for understanding Havana’s maddening effect on people. It is a city of desire that exists in memory as much as in reality, something all the more beautiful for its unattainability.      

Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy Cover Image
ISBN: 9780743246415
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Free Press - January 13th, 2004

In his attempts to gather as many perspectives on Cuban life as possible, Butler interviews Carlos Eire, author of this National Book Award-winning memoir. The story of one of the thousands forced to flee their homeland with no hope of ever returning, WAITING FOR SNOW IN HAVANA is simply heartbreaking. Perhaps no other book so thoroughly conveys the cultural chasm created by the post-revolution diaspora. 

The Duke of Havana: Baseball, Cuba, and the Search for the American Dream Cover Image
ISBN: 9780812992564
Availability: Not On Our Shelves. Usually arrives in 7-10 Days due to Covid-19 shipping delays.
Published: Villard - March 20th, 2001

Cubans love boxing, but baseball is religion. No other sport arouses anywhere near the mania on the island. Ironic that the true passion of this communist nation is America’s national pastime. As with Cuba’s fighters, their baseball players are among the best in the world, possessing talents worth millions anywhere but where they live. Case in point: Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez. THE DUKE OF HAVANA charts the odyssey of his impossible decision to leave Cuba in order to play in the Major Leagues. Like many before him and since, Hernandez faced unmentionable hardships to chase his dream, sacrificing all he’d ever known in the process. Still, less than a year after making it to American shores, he was leading the New York Yankees to a World Series championship. An amazing true story.     

Havana Real: One Woman Fights to Tell the Truth about Cuba Today Cover Image
By Yoani Sanchez, M. J. Porter (Translated by)
ISBN: 9781935554257
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Melville House - April 26th, 2011

Yoani Sanchez is a dissident blogger, chronicling all the harsh realities of living in Castro’s Cuba. Even though her life is in constant peril, she persists in releasing her missives and in hoping for a brighter future for her country. She is a testament to undaunted courage and an unwavering voice recounting the daily life of a people most of the world has never seen. In a land where freedom of speech is banned, telling the truth is the most revolutionary act.

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