It is where Fidel Castro raised money to overthrow Batista and where two generations of Castro's enemies have raised armies to overthrow him, so far without success. It is where the bitter opera of Cuban exile intersects with the cynicism of U.S. foreign policy. It is a city whose skyrocketing murder rate is fueled by the cocaine trade, racial discontent, and an undeclared war on the island 90 miles to the south. As Didion follows Miami's drift into a Third World capital, she also locates its position in the secret history of the Cold War, from the Bay of Pigs to the Reagan doctrine and from the Kennedy assassination to the Watergate break-in.
Miami is not just a portrait of a city, but a masterly study of immigration and exile, passion, hypocrisy, and political violence.
"Didion's Miami is a kaleidoscope of impressions, and a litany of violence, intrigue, vengeance, political manipulation, and broken dreams." (Boston Globe)
"[F]inely tuned." (The New York Times)
"This remains a masterful polemic." (Library Journal)
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Havana vanities come to dust in Miami.
After living in Miami for decades, I decided to read this 1987 book as a flashback because there is now a controversy over whether the East Little Havana district should be preserved or paved over with exclusive condos. I had read two other books by Joan Didion that were extremely engaging. And recently, this book received praise in the Miami New Times (alternative newspaper) as a pretty good depiction of one slice of the city's history.
I was disappointed. I think the book has not stood the test of time. It is just not very interesting for today's reader, especially as it moves into the later chapters that sketch Didion's meetings and observations regarding various local figures. Too many details and names that add up to a lot of unanswered questions and dead ends. It seems to be mostly accurate but, as the New Times review said, Didion did not get everything right. Example of error: implying that the Black Grove, a historic Bahamian settlement, was a collection of public housing units. Didion smelled linkage between Miami Cubans and the Kennedy assassination and other national events but, by her own admission, never really got a handle on what was happening.
The narrator Jennifer Van Dyck has a fine reading voice but made dozens of distracting mispronunciations in English and Spanish.