Ann Louise Bardach
Ann Louise Bardach is a PEN award-winning investigative journalist who has covered Cuba for more than a decade for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, where she was a Contributing Editor for many years, and many other publications. She currently writes for Newsweek International and is the editor of Cuba: A Traveler's Literary Companion and is a Visiting Professor of International Journalism at the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Ann Louise Bardach talks exclusively to us about Cuba, Castro and her literary influences.
What motivated you to write on this subject?
The origin of this book was an assignment in 1991 ago from my editor at Vanity Fair to find and interview Fidel Castro. This would lead to a half dozen long articles on Castro, Cuba, the American fugitive Robert Vesco and various scandals. Later I would write a special series on exile terrorism for The New York Times. Cuba would become an obsession, an adventure, and, at times, a crucible. Nevertheless, it was a journey I would not have missed for all the world.
What kind of experience do you want your reader to have?
First of all, I see myself as a populist, hopefully drawing in readers who normally would not be reading about Cuba / Miami / or U.S. policy. I want ordinary readers, more than scholars, to read this book and have some sense of how and why this 45-year-old quagmire came to be. And I want them to be able to empathize with Cubans both in Miami and in Cuba – sort of look at this estranged island without demonizing it. Most of all, they should close its cover and understand that Castro’s exit from the island is long overdue.
Who has inspired you as a writer?
Oh, many books – novels, biographies, histories – anything well written. For this book, I was especially taken with Joan Didion’s book Miami and to a lesser degree, T.D. Allman’s book on Miami – both of which I used as a starting point for Chapter 4 – Calle Ocho Politics.
Who has influenced your work?
This is not a history of Cuba. Nor is it a Fidel Castro biography. For the former, I would recommend Hugh Thomas’ opus Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom, and Tad Szulc’s Fidel for the latter. Both have invaluably informed this work. This work would have been impossible had it not been for the dozens of Cuban scholars, writers and analysts who trailblazed the path. The most influential and useful in my research has been Hugh Thomas, the late great Tad Szulc, Louis A. Perez Jr., Maria Torres de Los Angeles, Luis Conte Aguero for publishing Castro’s prison letters, and Carlos Franqui. Then there are the novels of Cristina Garcia and the work of so many Cuban writers in exile or in Havana.
During the process of writing, what surprises did you discover?
Most surprising to me was the interconnectedness of so many characters- of how many enemies are actually related in the Cuban arena. From the family of Fidel Castro, who rages against his former in-laws, to the most recent rafter washed up on the shores of Florida, it is the rare Cuban family that has not faced wrenching separation and loss. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart, Miami’s two congressmen, re also the cousins of Fidelito Castro-Diaz-Balart, the eldest son of the Cuban leader. Even Luis Posada Carriles, Castro's lifelong would-be assassin, unhappily confronts the fact that most of his family have remained stalwart fidelistas in Cuba. This conflict has proven so intractable because in part, with no diminishment intended, it is a huge family feud, filled with the corresponding heartbreak, rancor and bitterness.
Is there a particular book or author that has had a significant influence on you as a writer?
Oh, so many. Hugh Thomas, Joan Didion, Anthony Everitt’s Cicero - and I always immerse myself in the literature of whatever country I write about,
How has your perception of Castro and Cuba changed since completing the book?
Well, the sad truth is that both have grown considerably worse – even though my travels began in 1992 to Cuba during the height of the so-called Special Period. Things could hardly be grimmer than they are today. Cuba and U.S. relations are at their lowest nadir since the Cold War and Fidel Castro has made some spectacularly stupid moves in recent years.