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MIAMI by Joan Didion (Pocket Books: $7.95)

September 18, 1988|ELENA BRUNET

In "Miami," Joan Didion unravels the workings of the city's 56% Latin population. For nearly a century, Miami has been a launching point for attempted invasions of Havana. In the 1890s, Jose Marti raised funds to launch the Cuban War of Independence. Even Fidel Castro got financial backing there in 1955 before overturning the government of Fulgencio Batista.

But the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion still leaves a sting of betrayal in the memory of Cuban Americans: As the counterrevolutionaries' ships advanced into the harbor, John F. Kennedy chose "to preserve deniability by withholding air cover."

The CIA-trained operatives remained active for a number of years, although a man whom Didion interviews admits that they "were just being kept busy." In 1972, however, Cuban nationalists broke into the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, having been convinced that theirs was a "patriotic mission" that might be rewarded by military action against Castro.

But Didion's scope extends beyond the barrios of Miami Cubans. In this compelling and enlightening work, she lays bare the political maelstrom that is Miami.

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