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About the Book

Beyond the Book

256 pp., 6.125 x 8, 8 color and 53 b&w illus., 1 map, bibl., index

Paper
ISBN  978-0-8078-5887-5
Published: March 2008

Che's Chevrolet, Fidel's Oldsmobile

On the Road in Cuba

By Richard Schweid


Awards & Distinctions

A 2005 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Vintage U.S.-made cars on the streets of Havana provide a common representation of Cuba. Journalist Richard Schweid, who traveled throughout the island to research the story of motor vehicles in Cuba today and yesterday, gets behind the wheel and behind the stereotype in this colorful chronicle of cars, buses, and trucks. In his captivating, sometimes gritty, voice, Schweid blends previously untapped historical sources with his personal experiences, spinning a car-centered history of life on the island over the past century.

Packard, Studebaker, Edsel, De Soto: cars long extinct in the United States can be seen at work every day on Cuba's streets. Havana and Santiago de Cuba today are home to some 60,000 North American cars, all dating back to at least 1959, the year the Cuban Revolution prevailed. Though hardly a new part has arrived in Cuba since 1960, the cars are still on the road, held together with mechanical ingenuity and willpower.

Visiting car mechanics, tracking down records in dusty archives, and talking with car-crazy Cubans of all types, Schweid juxtaposes historic moments (Fidel Castro riding to the Bay of Pigs in an Oldsmobile) with the quotidian (a weary mother's two-cent bus ride home after a long day) and composes a rich, engaging picture of the Cuban people and their history. The narrative is complemented by fifty-two historic black-and-white photographs and eight color photographs by contemporary Cuban photographer Adalberto Roque.

About the Author

Richard Schweid was born in Nashville, Tennessee, and now lives in Barcelona, Spain, where he is a founder and senior editor of the city magazine Barcelona Metropolitan. His previous books include Consider the Eel and The Cockroach Papers: A Compendium of History and Lore. He served as production manager for the Oscar-nominated film Balseros, a documentary feature about Cuban refugees.


Reviews

"Brilliantly written, informed by firsthand insights, and illustrated with a remarkable collection of photographs of cars from the early 1900s to the present, this essay gets top recommendations for a truly remarkable read."
--Choice

"A delectable read. . . . Schweid carefully and masterfully weaves the myriad stories comprising Cuba's patrimony amidst a gritty and well-balanced look at the history of automobile culture on the island. Presented in a pleasant, reader-friendly format, Schweid's book is reminiscent of that one fantastic history professor that every lucky arts student encounters: it teaches much while the audience actually enjoys the journey."
--Caribbean Studies

"This rambling, well-researched, well-written study of mechanical transportation on, as JFK so aptly put it, 'that imprisoned island,' is full of interesting facts concerning Cuba's lack of economic development and its continuing love affair with pre-1959 American automobiles."
--Southern Pines Pilot

"In Che's Chevrolet, Fildel's Oldsmobile: On the Road in Cuba, Richard Schweid thoroughly researches the Cuban relationship with the automobile. . . . Through these scenes, readers get a sense of the contrast of past and present-day Cuba, its colorful people and their love for cars."
--Metrotimes

"Schweid creates a picture of a widely diverse culture by retelling the stories of mechanics, musicians, artists, carpenters and others, all of them big fans of old American cars."
--Creative Loafing (Charlotte, NC)

"A sturdy history and a lyrical song of love for the cars of yesteryear. The result: a treat for motorheads and geopolitics buffs alike."
--Kirkus Reviews

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