Havana Without Makeup… a review of this superb new book about Cuba

June 29, 2017

As a veteran of the Cuba scene and a serious bibliophile with a library exceeding 500 relevant titles, I’m a harsh critic of Johnny-come-lately texts about Cuba. Every year sees a few dozen mostly dull and derivative additions. But every year also sees at least one refreshing gem.. among them for this year the soon-to-be-published Havana Without Makeup: Inside the Soul of the City, by Herman Portocarero (Turtle Point Press, August 2017).

When an unrevised and unpublished reviewer’s proof arrived over my transom, I was skeptical upon reading that the Belgian-born author was a former Belgian and European Union ambassador of long-standing in Cuba (1995-2017). How could an ambassador be in touch with Havana’s solares (slum-yards) and über-perplexing and paradoxical culture?

I misjudged him entirely.


Passionate and provocative, Havana Without Makeup provides an uncommonly insightful and empathetic portrait of a city, country, and people steeped in eroticism, eccentricity and enigma.

Indeed, Portocarero hits the nail square on the head. I felt that he—a gifted fiction writer—and I were kindred spirits as he roams the spellbinding city, including seedy and obscure quarters to which I thought I was uniquely privy.

Part memoir, part travelogue, this 264-page spans an astonishing spectrum that weaves history, anthropology, politics and sociology into a fascinating tapestry revealing Havana in its most magnificent, sordid, and intimate glory.

All with a nuanced understanding told with a novelist’s flair for rich detail and delectable prose.

A must read!

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