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New Left Review 31, January-February 2005

Alistair Hennessy on Richard Gott, Cuba: A New History. Town and country, race and immigration, revolution and isolation, in Spain’s pearl of the Antilles, from Columbus to the heirs of Castro.



Despite the massive bibliography on Cuba’s revolution, remarkably few books in English cover the island’s story from its earliest days. This alone justifies Richard Gott’s claim to be providing A New History. Hugh Thomas’s 1971 Cuba—the inevitable comparison—starts only in 1762, with the British invasion of Havana that gave a major boost to the import of slaves and the sugar industry, and stops with the early years of the Revolution. Gott begins with the irruption of the Spanish adventurers in 1511, although he provides some sense of the shifting indigenous populations, Taínos, Guanahatabeyes and Siboneys, who made their way up from the mainland’s Orinoco delta through the vast Caribbean archipelago in pre-Colombian times; and he brings the story of the Cuban revolution up to the present day. Gott is also more concerned to trace historical continuities: geographic and climatic determinants (including those ‘malignant forces which took the form of winds of awesome proportions’ that the Taínos dubbed the huracán); piracy and corruption; social and racial strife; the pervasiveness of Africanity and the terrified white consciousness of neighbouring Haiti; all in the context of an overarching dependence on foreign empires, whether Spanish, British, American or Russian.

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Alistair Hennessy, ‘Cuba’s Longue Durée’, NLR 31: £3

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