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Instead, Moreno divides his memoir between a running history leading up to Batista’s fall and an account of his own life growing up in an upper-middle class household, his student days, and the changes that swept over Havana as the Batista regime rose and fell. The result is a sometimes jerky, discordant shift between two levels of experience. We get to know the personalities in his own groups and are told perhaps too much about the failed or partial attempts at overthrow launched by his own freethinking kind. Around the corner from his secret meetings, the real plotters were at work getting ready to shake the world, but he leaves them out. Nancy Alonso’s stories, Closed for Repairs, are an assessment of the damage done to a people reduced to rationed food since 1962 and high prices for fuel and imported goods, and trapped in a system that limits their freedom of speech and mobility. Havana in Alonso’s eyes is a decrepit sort of Prague, full of the reminders of colonial splendor and excess, but peeling and disintegrating under the pressures of a government frozen in place by the complicated chess game Castro played with the superpowers. In this constricted and suffering world, water in the taps flows a few hours twice or three times a week. A pothole grows in the street until neighbors finally plant a tree and a few flowers in it to keep it from becoming a passage to China. This slender collection of 11 slices of life begins with “The Excursion,” a wry story about a man known only as “M” plotting a journey with backpack, rope, and provisions in search of a public phone that still works. Another, “Caesar,” opens: It was during that time when all of us in Cuba raised or cultivated something. The fall of the Berlin Wall and a proliferation of cages, corrals, and fences on this island took place at the same time. While Europeans were tearing down barriers, here we were putting them up. It was a question of survival. The tale is of a father who longs for “real food,” not the ersatz meat made from cabbage served by his wife. He wants to raise rabbits, decides on chickens, all the while observed and silently derided by the women. Finally, a pig is hauled up into the apartment, the Caesar of the title, and the family is too fond of it to think of ever eating the creature. There’s a lot of Russian humor in these stories, not only because this is communism with all its warts, but because forbearance seems the principal inheritance of systems pitched too high morally and practiced too low in daily life. Even the bus driver in “The Trip” resembles one of those minor clerks in Gogol’s world, who refuses to take his passengers farther until they disembark and wait at the proper station. The passengers prevail at the end, and finally a begrudging compromise delivers Ines, the narrator, to her house on the last stop. Alonso, a notable author with one other book, Casting the First Stone, to her credit, navigates a careful route through contemporary Havana, sticking with gentle satire and staying clear of hard, ideological battles with the authorities. The 11 vignettes build on one another and end with the title story, “Closed for Repairs,” in which Ramon, a punctilious clerk, takes over the job of ombudsman in the Department of Community Concerns. Complaints rain down on him from disgruntled citizens. He tries to fix what he can, but his office is besieged with demands for repairs to an aging, neglected capital. Finally, when a day-care owner hangs up a “closed for repairs” sign, it is instantly attended to and reopened. A proud and grateful owner of the day care center, Venancio, enters Ramon’s office smiling and presents him with the “closed” sign. After Venancio leaves, Ramon looks about his own shabby office and hangs the sign on the door. “Now let’s see what happens,” he says. America’s long, relentless feud with Cuba has not buckled this little island nation’s knees. It has withstood the bleak, long winter of the embargo and has managed to eke out a few relations with friendly trading partners, including Canada. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Cuba lost $6 billion in income and was reduced to hardscrabble for the rest of the 1990s. Venezuela came to Castro’s aid when Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998, and other nations have been giving aid to Cuba by sly or overt means. The overwhelming attitude of the world has been to end the embargo, but America has not budged in nearly five decades as the Uriah Heep of the world. Every year the United Nations General Assembly votes to lift the U.S. sanctions, and every year the U.S. vetoes the motion. In 2006, only the U.S., Israel, the Marshall Islands, and Palau voted against the resolution. The U.S. vetoed lifting the sanctions this year as well. Just before imposing the embargo, John Kennedy ordered thousands of Cuban cigars to weather the impasse in comfort. Paul Christensen writes frequently about contemporary issues. His most recent book is Strangers in Paradise: A Memoir of Provence MARK YOUR CALENDARS! The Texas Observer’s Rabble Rouser Roundup will be held on Sunday, January 20, 2008 at La Zona Rosa in Austin Performers include The South Austin Jug Band & Jimmy LaFave! Join us! 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 16, 2007