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Latest 'One Book, One San Diego' Selection Revealed

The book cover of "Waiting for Snow in Havana" by Carlos Eire.
Free Press
The book cover of "Waiting for Snow in Havana" by Carlos Eire.

Latest 'One Book, One San Diego' Selection Revealed
Latest ‘One Book, One San Diego’ Selection Revealed GUEST: Carlos Eire, author, "Waiting for Snow in Havana"

it's been 10 years since the one book one San Diego contest brought San Diego readers together. Today KPBS is announcing the latest one book selection. Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos air. He fled Cuba in 1962 without his parents when he was 11 years old. He was one of about 14,000 Cuban children brought to the US as part of operation Peter Pan. In his book he describes life during Castro's revolution and his escape. He spoke with KPBS roundtable host . Thanks for having me on your show. You are a history and religious studies professor. Writing this memoir seems like a big change for you. What prompted this story? It was the first time I had veered off the straight and narrow scholarly path. It happen unexpectedly. There were various catalysts that made this happen but the most important one, the one that pushed me over the edge was the whole Elian Gonzalez man's in the year 2000. That was a little boy caught in the middle of an international custody battle. That's right. It was portrayed as a custody battle and I suppose that one level it was but what upset me is that I knew it wasn't a custody battle in fact if he were to be sent back he would not end up with his father and that's precisely what happened. That dredged up all sorts of memories for you and your experience of a boy in Cuba before the revolution. For me the worst part of it was I was separated from my own family for 3 1/2 years. I came to the US by myself and then the Castro regime would not allow my parents to leave. As a matter of fact I never saw my father again. The last time I saw him was at the airport when I was 11. This was the same government that was saying every boy needs to be with his father. Well, it wasn't just my case. I knew hundreds and then I found out it was thousands of children who were intentionally separated from the parents by the Castro regime. So to get to the end of the story, I wrote to every newspaper magazine radio station I can think of and wanted them to put the story in perspective. Thousands of families that were separated that no one replied to me. Not even an acknowledgment of my letters. So I decided to write this memoir. Tell us a little bit about your life in Cuba. This would have been in the late 50s and early 60s. The time that revolution and you were in a middle-class, upper middle class family. Somewhere between middle and upper middle. I father was a lawyer and then the judge who dealt mostly with traffic violations and neighbor disputes. We were not a wealthy family. Is a matter of fact we didn't own our own home. My father lived in his sister's house. On my mother's side might grandparents were Spanish immigrants who rented their property. My grandfather on my mother's side was a truck driver. I guess we were privileged, my brother and I, that private schools were very cheap in Cuba. Our parents sentenced to a very good private school. I think that has made all the difference in my life in that respect. We were not part of the wealthy elite. So you studied religion. What is the role of religion in your book? In the memoir, religion is not can. I think's naked in was some kind of verbal stealth technology because not too many people pick up on it. There are constant references to God. Constant references to the way in which there has got to be more to this world that we can see and feel. One person who didn't catch it was the British editors when my book was sold, I was told point-blank that I had to remove every single reference to religion because it would insult the British reading public. How interesting.'s the Mac I was also accused of having very muscular Christianity that would upset the British reading public. It's interesting you say that because I grew up Roman Catholic and I'm about your reach here and it didn't strike me that it was overly religious to get reaction from an editor like that. Some people just don't like any mention of religious subjects. For instance I talked about how much the images at church used to frighten me. I would talk about dreams I used to have that were religious in nature. So I used to have I would call it a nightmare that Jesus appeared at the dining room window and stared straight at me basically asking me to come follow him. The lasting a five or six-year-old wants to do. It must've been difficult for you, I know any of us thinking back to when where seven, eight or 10 years old, having a hard time reconstructing what life was like then. How do you make sure these memories are accurate this much time later? This is my own interpretation of what happened to my memory, that because I left at age 11 and never went back and never saw most of the people I knew in my childhood including most of my family, my memory remain pristine. Because my childhood ended so abruptly on April 6, 1962 when I left my parents. Few of us can say we lost our childhood at this moment I went from being a child to being an orphan/adult. I was pretty much in charge of my own life and future from that point forward. My childhood remain distinct for me and those memories remained very clear, almost like something inside of a glass paperweight. Preserved. I know if I had gone back before writing the memoir, my memory would have been scrambled because anytime I go back to a place I haven't been for a few years, the buildings change in things change and people change and emotions get tied up the memories. And as I sat down to write the memoir, it was like unlocking the door. Things I had not consciously thought of for years just started flooding back in. It was a torrent of memories coming back. It has been a number of years since you did write this memoir. You followed up with another memoir, a period in your life. A lot has happened in the last couple of years. President Obama has open relations with Cuba. What is your take on that? First of all, I'll make it as clear as possible, I don't want to go back and I will never go back as long as the current regime is in power. I can't even if I wanted to because I'm an official enemy of the state. All of my books are banding Cuba. So I can't go back. If you could, would you want to see what's happened? You must have any number of sources who can tell you what's going on. I know what's going on. Unconnected to a broad and deep network of people inside the island. As long as the Castro regime is still in power and if it is replaced by something just like that, I will not go back. I want set foot in this place. No. That was Carlos there author of waiting for Snow in Havana. He will be at the central library on September 22 kick off this year's one book one San Diego event.

For 10 years, the One Book, One San Diego program has brought the region's readers together. This year, they'll come together over the story of a young boy's journey from Cuba to the U.S. in Carlos Eire's memoir "Waiting for Snow in Havana." In his book, Eire describes life amid the Castro revolution and his escape.

Eire fled Cuba in 1962 without his parents when he was just a child. Eire was one of about 14,000 Cuban children brought to the U.S. as part of Operation Peter Pan.

He says the idea behind the book came from his country’s separated families

“I was separated from my own family," Eire said on KPBS Midday Edition. "For three and half years I came to the U.S. by myself. And then the Castro regime would not allow my parents to leave. As a matter of fact never allowed my father to leave. I never saw him again. The last time I saw him was at the airport when I was 11.”

Eire, now a professor of religion and history at Yale University, typically authors academic books with titles such as "Reformations: Early Modern Europe 1450-1700," but says he was prompted to write the memoir after people described the 2000 fight over Cuban student Elián González as a "custody battle."

"One of my specialties is the way in which symbols are understood, but I didn’t really understand the power of a symbol until the boy showed up one day on ABC News and instead of mentioning his name, the label applied was 'Cuban Boy,'" Eire said.

The book came out in 2003, but Eire said it is still relevant to readers today, even for those who have little interest in current U.S.-Cuba relations.

"It’s set in a certain place and a certain time but it’s really about life, it’s about being human, it’s about coping with unexpected turns in one’s life, dealing with loss," he said. "It’s about oppression and one’s response to oppression. The book is many things at once."

Eire will be at the San Diego Central Library Sept. 20 to kick off this year's One Book, One San Diego events.