<b>1980's Cuban refugee crisis</b>Journalists, it has been said, often write the first draft of history. In her first book, a memoir of her escape from Fidel Castro's Cuba, Pulitzer Prize-winning <i>New York Times</i> reporter Mirta Ojito highlights the extraordinary courage of ordinary people. <b>Finding Manana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus</b>, Ojito's account of the much-publicized Mariel boatlift of 1980, when more than 120,000 Cubans made the arduous journey from Cuba's Mariel Harbor to southern Florida, is fast-paced and riveting. It gives insight, still unfortunately relevant a quarter of a century later, into what life is like under the thumb of a tyrant, and pays close attention to the refugees who are tossed along like flotsam in the wake of seismic political events.
The Mariel boatlift was put into motion when a frustrated bus driver plowed his vehicle through the fence surrounding the Peruvian embassy in Havana. Thousands of people flowed through the gap, hoping for a chance to flee a homeland that had become a prison. Ojito uses her formidable research, eye for detail and interviewing skills to lay bare the behind-the-scenes machinations involved in the ensuing diplomatic crisis. Castro and former President Jimmy Carter loom large, of course, but so do the exiled Cubans who parleyed with Castro and the one-armed Vietnam vet whose boat, the <i>Manana</i>, carries Ojito and her family to safety. Ojito alternates between telling her personal tale, showing her gradual disillusionment with the revolution and her family's necessarily clandestine preparations for departure, and a clear-eyed retelling of events on the world stage.
It was not all black and white, of course. Ojito, who was only 16 at the time, carefully probes her own pain at leaving the only home she had ever known, while the fate of some <i>Marielitos</i>, as the refugees came to be known, was not always rosy upon their arrival in the United States. Exile, like longing, is a way of life, writes Ojito. In dealing with it through her writing, she has opened a window for others, and offers a fine introduction to the human face of history. <i>Jehanne Moharram grew up in the Middle East and now writes from Virginia.</i>