Synopses & Reviews
In his 2003 National Book Award–winning memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana,
Carlos Eire narrated his coming of age in Cuba just before and during the Castro revolution. That book literally ends in midair as eleven-year-old Carlos and his older brother leave Havana on an airplane—along with thousands of other children—to begin their new life in Miami in 1962. It would be years before he would see his mother again. He would never again see his beloved father.
Learning to Die in Miami opens as the plane lands and Carlos faces, with trepidation and excitement, his new life. He quickly realizes that in order for his new American self to emerge, his Cuban self must “die.” And so, with great enterprise and purpose, he begins his journey.
We follow Carlos as he adjusts to life in his new home. Faced with learning English, attending American schools, and an uncertain future, young Carlos confronts the age-old immigrant’s plight: being surrounded by American bounty, but not able to partake right away. The abundance America has to offer excites him and, regardless of how grim his living situation becomes, he eagerly forges ahead with his own personal assimilation program, shedding the vestiges of his old life almost immediately, even changing his name to Charles. Cuba becomes a remote and vague idea in the back of his mind, something he used to know well, but now it “had ceased to be part of the world.”
But as Carlos comes to grips with his strange surroundings, he must also struggle with everyday issues of growing up. His constant movement between foster homes and the eventual realization that his parents are far away in Cuba bring on an acute awareness that his life has irrevocably changed. Flashing back and forth between past and future, we watch as Carlos balances the divide between his past and present homes and finds his way in this strange new world, one that seems to hold the exhilarating promise of infinite possibilities and one that he will eventually claim as his own.
An exorcism and an ode, Learning to Die in Miami is a celebration of renewal—of those times when we’re certain we have died and then are somehow, miraculously, reborn.
"A mix of insightful observation, humor, and heartfelt emotion. . . . Easily one of the more impressive memoirs on the thorny issue of immigration."
Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A very intelligent and sensitive bird's-eye view of a Cuban exile's boyhood experiences in America . . . eloquent and moving."
"The history of a conversion, from skeptic to believer….The Cuban identity sticks throughout, for Eire spikes his text with Spanish, but a spiritual quest overrides nationality….At this point, he transcends the crowded field of the Cuban American memoir subgenre and, quite effectively, transcends.”
—The Miami Herald
“…Irreverent, deeply affecting.…rich with smile-inducing pop-culture references and childhood pleasures. Eire loves Marilyn Monroe; models his speech after Andy Griffith and the Beverly Hillbillies; and revels in swimming pools, matinees, the public library, Halloween and, at long last, the mythical snow he finally experiences in Illinois….above all, a story of resilience.”
—The Seattle Times
“[Eire] writes with both levity and wisdom about the tension between Carlos the Cuban and Charles the American, describing his process of maturing as ‘learning to die’—or, more prosaically, to let go of worldly attachments such as his childhood memories of life in Cuba. With each move, unrequited schoolyard crush or achievement in his adopted language, he sheds a former self. Eventually he embraces this continual reinvention as itself something distinctly American.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] vivid, affecting memoir of survival and coming of age….An engrossing Cuban-American story that will leave readers wanting more.”
“Eire is a tremendously likable narrator, honest about the limitations of memory, always wearing his heart on his sleeve.…those who remember the exuberant kid from Waiting for Snow in Havana
…will be moved by the man he becomes.”
—The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Carlos Eire was born in Havana in 1950 and left his homeland in 1962, one of fourteen thousand unaccompanied children airlifted out of Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan. After living in a series of foster homes, he was reunited with his mother in Chicago in 1965. Eire earned his PhD at Yale University in 1979 and is now the T. Lawrason Riggs Professor of History and Religious Studies at Yale. He lives in Guilford, Connecticut, with his wife, Jane, and their three children.