Cuba: travel books to read before you go

This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Cuba guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip.

Enduring CubaZoë Bran’s Enduring Cuba (2002), an illuminating and beautifully written book, conveys the daily shortages, slowdowns and lucha (struggle) of the Cuban reality with a keen eye for detail.

Cuba DiariesIsadora Tatlin’s Cuba Diaries (2002) takes an equally eye-opening look at a similarly thought-provoking and contradictory subject.

Trading with the EnemyEven better on the travelogue scene is Trading with the Enemy: A Yankee Travels through Castro’s Cuba (1992), by Tom Miller, a rich feast of Cuban lore gleaned during eight months of perceptive travel in Cuba. It may be the best travel book about Cuba ever written.

Mi Moto FidelChristopher Baker provides a slightly different take on the período especial (Special Period; Cuba’s new economic reality post-1991) in Mi Moto Fidel (2001), a book inspired by a cross-island motorcycling odyssey undertaken during the mid-1990s.

Dirty Havana TrilogyReminiscent of the uncompromising, in-your-face style of Irvine Welsh or Charles Bukowski, Pedro Juan Gutierrez Dirty Havana Trilogy (2000) is a fascinating, if sometimes disturbing insider look at life in Havana during the dark days of the Special Period.

Waiting for Snow in HavanaCarlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana (2003), meanwhile, is a nostalgic account of boyhood during the tumultuous days of the Cuban Revolution.

Islands in the StreamIn the literary field, classics include Hemingway’s Nobel Prize–winning Old Man and the Sea (1952), and his less-heralded but equally compelling Islands in the Stream (1970).

Our Man in HavanaGraham Greene captures the prerevolutionary essence of Havana in Our Man in Havana (1958), while Elmore Leonard documents the events surrounding the explosion of the battleship USS Maine and the Cuban-Spanish-American War with thrill-a-minute panache in Cuba Libre (2000).

Che GuevaraBiographies of Che Guevara abound, although there’s no contest when it comes to size, quality and enduring literary legacy. Jon Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara: a Revolutionary Life (1997) is one of the most groundbreaking biographies ever written, and during the research for the book Mr Anderson initiated the process by which Guevara’s remains were found and dug up in Bolivia before being returned to Cuba in 1997.

Fidel CastroUnauthorized biographies of Castro are equally authoritative: try Volker Skierka’s Fidel Castro: a Biography (2000) or Tad Szulc’s exhaustive Fidel: A Critical Portrait (1986). By far the best to date is My Life: Fidel Castro (2006), a spoken-word testimony catalogued by Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet who spent more than 100 hours interviewing the Cuban leader between 2003 and 2005. It provides a fascinating insight into Castro’s life in his own (many) words.

More travel literature reading lists for other destinations can be found on lonelyplanet.com.