Previewing “Our Woman in Havana” by Ambassador Vicki Huddleston

I’m excited to share the final cover, flap copy, and back ad for my agency client Ambassador Vicki Huddleston’s Our Woman in Havana, coming out in March from Overlook Press, with a Foreword by former Secretary of Commerce during the second term of President George W Bush, Cuban-born Carlos Gutierrez. Publication will arrive a few weeks ahead of Raúl Castro’s scheduled retirement from the Cuban presidency in April, the first time in more than sixty years that someone not named Castro will be Cuba’s leader, a propitious moment for the book.

Amb Huddleston was the senior US official in Cuba from 1999-2002, and in this exhilarating memoir recounts the Elián Gonzalez custody saga from the perspective she had of it on the ground in Havana. She also chronicles many face-to-face encounters she had with Fidel Castro, who with his machismo was always eager for an opportunity to embarrass or berate this American woman representing his sworn foe. The perspective of a female diplomat at work for her country is an atypical one, Madeleine Albright’s 2013 memoir Madame Secretary  notwithstanding. Co-author of a 2007 Brooking Institution report that was a blueprint for the Obama administration’s normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba, Huddleston writes about the unfortunate reversal of the Obama opening under the Trump administration, and her regret that the hardline policy may well drive Cuba in to the arms of Russia, China, or possibly even North Korea. She had a Letter to the Editor on this topic published in the NY Times last summer. At this time when the US State Dept is suffering an unprecedented exodus from the ranks of the foreign service, Huddleston will also speak on her book tour about what’s at stake when America sends its diplomats abroad, and the impact when we retreat from full engagement with the world.

Among the blurbs on the back cover is this one:

As someone who has lived most of my life in Miami, and who has seen the effect of US policy toward Cuba up close and very personal, I found Our Woman in Havana to be a remarkable inside account of the real news that was behind the headlines I’ve followed for years. As a bookseller, I know this book will be enthusiastically embraced by my customers and I look forward to offering it to them.” —Mitchell Kaplan, founder of the south Florida independent bookstore chain Books & Books

If you’re a bookseller or reviewer reading this post, and would like an advance copy, please let me know.

The Indomitable Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s Most Charismatic Critic

In case you haven’t seen this yet, it’s an important op-ed by my agency client Amy Knight’s in the LA Times today about Alexey Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s popular and charismatic critic. If you don’t know about him yet, you ought to because he’s got a chance to mount a credible challenge to Russia’s political status quo, and is making some headway despite an autocratic environment. The piece reports he has 80 campaign offices and more than 130,000 volunteers. Putin and his government are trying to sideline Navalny and scuttle his candidacy in next year’s presidential election by using the courts to keep him off the ballot. The piece is about 1000 words, so a 5-7 minute read and drawn from reporting for her book Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime & Political Murder. It went on sale this past Tuesday, from St Martin’s Press (ordering info here). I believe it is going to be very widely read and discussed. Thanks for sharing word about it if you have friends keeping any eye Russia’s ongoing politics, not just for what they’ve done in recent years and months, but for what is still to come. The book will help readers understand the Putin system, so necessary for us going forward since his displacement—by Navalny, or anything or anyone else—is unfortunately way more than a long shot. Note that with Russian law mandating 6-year presidential terms, if re-elected, Putin could be Russia’s leader till 2024, a worrying thought for the West. Still, if anyone could do it, Navalny is the one to watch most closely, for his canny maneuvering which includes a fed-up anti-corruption message that could stand alongside Trump’s failed promise to “drain the swamp.” In Russia, with the economy flat, and ordinary people falling behind, and businessmen and bankers cleaning up, Navalny rails against privileged plutocrats and means it. Navalny also bears watching because of the uncomfortable conclusion that his personal security could be at risk. Amy concludes her piece with a quote from the dissident:

“In an interview with the BBC in January, Navalny, who is married with two children, was reminded of what happened to Nemtsov and asked if he realized the danger he faced. Navalny, whose political support far surpasses [the late Boris] Nemtsov’s popularity, assured his interviewer that he was fully aware of the risks of opposing Putin. As to his motivation, he added: ‘This is my country and I am going to fight for my country. I know that I am right.’”

South African Anti-Apartheid Activist Stephen Biko Died in Police Custody Forty Years Ago Today

After Stephen Biko’s death following a brutal police interrogation in 1977, an atrocity that the South African government tried covering up, the anti-apartheid newspaper editor Donald Woods, who’d known Biko, quickly wrote and smuggled out of the country a manuscript* that was his combined biography of Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) he’d been a key leader of, and an exposé on the case. The book added fuel to the controversy in Western countries about the conduct of the corrupt regime. It was an amazingly timely and powerful book, and instilled in me a love for ripped-from-the-headlines books, the sort that I’ve been partial to ever since. Biko was published in 1978 around the time my siblings and parents and I were getting ready to open our bookstore, Undercover Books, and it was among the first books I ordered for our opening stock. With the scandal that ensued from Biko’s death, ownership of Woods’s book became a crime in South Africa. I was very proud we sold many copies in Cleveland. Woods lived many years in Britain, and was still on the scene when Nelson Mandela finally became free.

*When I said above that Donald Woods smuggled his manuscript for Biko out of South Africa, I could’ve added that he carried it out himself, in clandestine fashion, so it could be published in the West. He and his family fled the country in a land cruiser sort of vehicle, in back country, crossing a frontier to a neighboring country where there was no guard post. A brave man with nerves of steel—Woods was determined to honor the memory and sacrifice of a true human rights martyr by first writing the book, and then putting his life, and his family’s lives, on the line to make sure the manuscript would make it to publication. That’s commitment!

 

Strike Back at the Trump Administration’s Cruelty—Donate to Solar Cookers International!

Cooking with wood and other combustible fuels causes many health problems for children and adults in developing countries. As this story in Think Progress chronicles, going back to the George W. Bush administration, the US government has participated in and contributed to a UN program that provides clean cookstoves, either cookers that burn combustible fuels more cleanly by venting them adequately, or solar cookers as pictured here. However, the Trump administration recently pulled out of this clean cookstove program because it mentions climate change, and the very mention of that phrase is now forbidden by Trump officials. Learning about this, I got angry. But my anger quickly turned to inspiration, as I thought of the example of a friend, Jim Hanas, who’d recently done a fundraiser to mark his birthday. He inspired me to ask friends and contacts to help me mark my birthday on Sept 22 by donating to support the efforts of Solar Cookers International. Solar cookers, which cost less than $40, can help people live much more economically and healthfully. The campaign goal is $500 and fundraising on my Facebook page will continue through Sept 29. Please consider donating to this effort. No contribution is too small to help make a difference. Thanks a lot! 

Trump’s BLM Wants to Let Wild Horses in the West Die So Cattle, and Cattlemen, Can Flourish

Publishers Weekly says Amy Knight’s ORDERS TO KILL is ‘A Vital Work for Understanding Modern-day Russia’

September update: Kirkus gave a starred review to ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder

Gratified by this first review of my literary agency client Amy Knight’s ORDERS TO KILL: The Putin Regime and Political Murder. Publishers Weekly says “This is a vital work for understanding modern-day Russia.” Linked to here at the PW site and in the screenshot below (r.).


Last month I shared all the blurbs at an earlier post, including this one from Bill Browder: “Amy Knight’s [new book] builds a compelling case against the Putin regime for its complicity in the violent deaths of many of its critics—political opponents, muckraking journalists, and reform advocates. It also destroys the myth that we in the West can appease Putin to get him to behave himself.”—Bill Browder, author of Red Notice: A True Story of High Finance, Murder, and One Man’s Fight for Justice

Vicki Huddleston, former top US diplomat on Cuba, on the Letters Page of the NY Times

Very proud of my author client Vicki Huddleston—former head of the United States Interests Section in Havana, Cuba, 1999-2002—who has this letter to the editor running in the NY Times today on the Trump administration’s reversal of President Obama’s Cuba policy. Her book, Our Woman in Havana: A US Diplomat’s Inside Account of America’s Long Struggle With Fidel Castro’s Cuba, will be published by Overlook Press in 2018. Here’s the letter, and you can also find it via this link