Eugene Robinson, an editor and former reporter for the Washington Post, views Cuba's history and post-Revolutionary politics through its many kinds of music in Last Dance In Havana. While this approach may not satisfy scholars, it does have a lot to recommend it. After all, the arts are a barometer of what a society values, subsidizes, permits and turns to in times of crisis. Thanks to the international success of 1997's The Buena Vista Social Club CD, a project that resurrected a group of old and once-neglected native performers, Cuban music was suddenly all the rage. This fascination brought yet another tentacle of capitalism to the country and widened the general interest in other varieties of popular music. Robinson is at pains to trace them all: he visits nightclubs and musician's homes, inspects Cuba's world-class music academies and demonstrates how Castro's seemingly capricious rules affect the ebb and flow of music. Robinson, who is black, also describes the racism that still afflicts this supposedly egalitarian society.

Still, he is not cynical about Castro's motives. "He saw a Cuba of heroic sacrifice and complete selflessness, a state that came as close as possible to attaining the communist ideal, a land where bourgeois comforts' were rightly scorned and private ownership' was a concept consigned to history's dustbin and constant struggle' was the happiest condition of all. . . . I think that when Fidel looks at the glorious shambles that is Cuba, he sees success, not failure."

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