A reporter sets out to see the Cuban countryside on the 50th anniversary of the revolution, tracing the path between the rebels’ landing point in the south and their final victory in the north. From the pages of the Virginia Quarterly Review, this Notable Narrative shines as a classic travelogue, in which reporter Neil Shea introduces readers to the Cuban countryside through his own first encounter with the island.

During his monthlong trip, Shea meets old men, mango-throwing boys, and local police officers. He pulls readers into his story by bringing the land and the landscape itself to life. When a former soldier—one of “the Vietnam veterans of Cuba”—describes the boiling temperatures in Angola, Shea shares his own perspective on the Cuban heat: “I drip beside him. I can’t believe it is hotter anywhere but the sun.” And he concretely portrays the consequences for the tiny nation when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991: “You can drive to the spot where the highway crews abandoned their work, the pavement running out in the dirt like water into sand.”

Shea uses an authoritative voice to interpret Cubans’ public statements in light of their private conversations. Though he sometimes flirts with being a little too front and center as a character, his strong presence in the story provides an opportunity not only to experience Cuba through his eyes, but also to see how rural Cubans respond to the American in their midst.

Read “The Revolution Is,” by Neil Shea

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