On Carlos Eire
Learning to Die in Miami
By Carlos Eire
Free Press, 308 pages, $26
In 1962, at age 11, Carlos Eire was rescued from what he calls the “totalitarian nightmare” of revolutionary Cuba by Operation Pedro Pan, a U.S.-sponsored airlift that whisked 14,000 children to Miami before Castro sealed his kingdom. This follow-up to Mr. Eire’s National Book Award-winning 2003 memoir, “Waiting for Snow in Havana,”begins with his arrival, parentless and barely conversant in English, in the U.S. Over the next three years, while he waited for his mother to join him, the boy formerly known as Carlos would become Charles, Charlie and Chuck Neat-o as he drifted among foster homes.
Mr. Eire can be unsparing about the difficulties of émigré life in the U.S. He and his brother were foisted onto abusive foster parents—referred to only as “Lucy and Ricky Ricardo”—before being summoned to live with relatives in Bloomington, Ill. But while his sibling retreated into émigré culture, Mr. Eire became a fan of football, mimicked the speech of Andy Griffith and spent afternoons at the library developing habits that would one day earn him a professorship at Yale.
The author 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.