Hotel Cuba: A Novel
“Deeply moving, compulsively readable, Hotel Cuba chronicles the early twentieth century immigrant experience with a profound understanding and crackling urgency I’ve not previously encountered. I could not put it down and I could not stop thinking about it long after I’d reached its stunning conclusion. In short: You need to read this book. Right now.”—Joanna Rakoff, bestselling author of My Salinger Year
“Thick with the humid air of a Havana summer night, rich with mesmerizing detail, Hotel Cuba will grab you and not let you go.”—Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Take My Hand, Balm and Wench
From the award-winning author of The View from Stalin's Head, a stunning novel about two sheltered Russian Jewish sisters, desperate to get to America to make a new life, who find themselves trapped in the sultry, hedonistic world of 1920s Havana.
Fleeing the chaos of World War I and the terror of the Soviet Revolution, practical, sensible Pearl Kahn and her lovestruck, impulsive younger sibling Frieda sail for America to join their sister in New York. But discriminatory new immigration laws bar their entry, and the young women are turned back at Ellis Island. With few options, Pearl and Frieda head for Havana, Cuba, convinced they will find a way to overcome this setback.
At first, life in big-city Prohibition-era Havana is overwhelming, like nothing Pearl and Frieda have ever experienced—or could have ever imagined in the rural shtetl where they grew up. As the sisters begin to adjust, their plans for going to America together become complicated. Frieda falls for the not-so-dreamy man of her dreams while Pearl’s life opens up unexpectedly, offering her a taste of freedom and heady romance, and an opportunity to build a future on her own terms. Though to do so, she must confront her past and the shame she has long carried.
A heartbreaking, epic family story, Hotel Cuba explores the profound courage of two women displaced from their home who strive to create a new future in an enticing and dangerous world far different from anything they have ever known.
Praise for Hotel Cuba: A Novel
"Deeply moving, compulsively readable, Hotel Cuba chronicles the early twentieth century immigrant experience with a profound understanding and crackling urgency I’ve not previously encountered. I could not put it down and I could not stop thinking about it long after I’d reached its stunning conclusion. In short: You need to read this book. Right now." — Joanna Rakoff, bestselling author of My Salinger Year
"With expert perception and a capacious heart, Aaron Hamburger weaves together the daring tale of Pearl and Frieda, refugees from Poland who journey to Havana to start a new life. Carrying little but their own unstoppable vitality, their discoveries in this strange land will dazzle readers on every page. Thrilling and magisterial, the twists and turns of their story will break your heart and fill it up again with light. With every sharp and generous line of this exquisite novel, Hamburger creates dazzling worlds within worlds that I'll be thinking about long after turning the final page." — Kristopher Jansma, author of Why We Came to the City
"Aaron Hamburger takes the reader on Pearl’s circuitous journey through Cuba to the U.S., keeping us close to the visceral feelings of hunger, displacement and loneliness as well as the blossoming that Pearl undergoes in Cuba as she begins to assert her creative identity. Set between the two world wars, Hotel Cuba explicates the past while presaging the future in an excellent historically-based novel." — Breena Clarke, author of River, Cross My Heart
“With Hotel Cuba, Aaron Hamburger sees the poignant gravity behind the ongoing search for home and the battle that can ensue between family obligations and the weight of history. With great empathy, this rich, engrossing novel lets us see that no place is ever transitory and that even the briefest of stays forever affects us, no matter our last horizon.” — Manuel Muñoz, author of The Consequences
"Aaron Hamburger’s deeply compelling new novel Hotel Cuba takes us to Havana in the 1920s where it weaves a beautiful story of sister-love and leave-taking. The book is syncopated by Hamburger’s signature, perfectly-timed humor, his generous storytelling and agile prose. What a wise and knowing and big-hearted story of belonging and the lasting imprint of place, written by a writer at the height of his craft. There's a feast for the eyes and ears and tastebuds here, so find a very comfortable chair and settle in. You won’t be able to put it down." — Susan Conley, author of Landslide
"Aaron Hamburger's Hotel Cuba is a beautiful, gripping story of immigration, hope, and personal fulfillment. Pearl, its protagonist, is one of my favorite characters in any recent novel; she is complex, wounded, occasionally ferocious—and always engaging, as she follows a long, fraught path from Russia to America via a vividly-rendered Prohibition-era Havana. Pearl seeks what we all do: safety, family, and, ultimately, a place in which she can be her best self. I loved this book." — Christopher Coake, author of You Would Have Told Me Not To
"Hotel Cuba is warm, witty, and mournful, a hopeful and clear-eyed chronicle of roads both taken and not. Aaron Hamburger has a wonderful ear for the tenderness and loneliness of memory, and though his book travels continents, its most potent territory is the impossible idea of home. Pearl is miraculous and unforgettable, and so is her story." — Hilary Leichter, author of Temporary
"In Hotel Cuba, Aaron Hamburger brings a humane intelligence to the story of two sisters searching for home following the devastations of the First World War. Every finely observed detail resonates with hope and loss.” — Rebecca Donner, New York Times bestselling author of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days
"Hotel Cuba is a stunning and captivating read. It can be easy to show a cast of characters crossing such great distances, can be easy to show an immigrant’s story, but it is another thing entirely to make a reader feel that distance and the love, sadness, forgiveness, and triumphs these people experience. There is so much love and compassion in this neatly detailed and moving novel. Hotel Cuba joins the ranks of some of my favorites, like Geraldine Brooks’s Caleb’s Crossing and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See." — Morgan Talty, author of Night of the Living Rez
"Pearl is a character who will keep you reading late into the night. You cannot help but place your hand in hers and go along for this unpredictable journey that moves between continents in the 1920s. Thick with the humid air of a Havana summer night, rich with mesmerizing detail, Hotel Cuba will grab you and not let you go.” — Dolen Perkins-Valdez, author of Take My Hand, Balm, and Wench
"Hotel Cuba, the story of two sisters—one a sociable beauty, the other an independent thinker—and their journey toward the American dream is terrific. From the harrowing opening voyage as sheltered Russian Jewish refugees on their way to 1920s Havana, to the final pages set in an up-and-coming Detroit, Aaron Hamburger vividly reveals all the places and choices the sisters must navigate as they forge their way in a rapidly changing world. This is historical fiction at its best." — Jessica Francis Kane, author of Rules for Visiting
"Hamburger is tender and provocative in his examinations of sexual abuse, racial strife in ’90s Detroit, and the way that discovering Nirvana changes everything about Ari’s world. The complexities of this novel are deftly handled by Hamburger, whose sensitive and observant prose is a pure joy to read on every page." — Electric Literature on NIRVANA IS HERE
“Nirvana is Here is told with irony and a pleasing lightness. . . . Nirvana songs and adolescent musings about Kurt Cobain pepper the book, giving it a gritty, sardonic edge.” — Jewish Book Council on NIRVANA IS HERE
"An expertly written, bold, funny, serious novel." — The Rupture on NIRVANA IS HERE
“Consistently amusing, particularly when Hamburger offers barbed observations about the banalities of tourist culture.” — New York Times on FAITH FOR BEGINNERS
“A knockout of a novel.” — Frontiers Magazine (Top Five Books of 2005) on FAITH FOR BEGINNERS
“Hamburger goes further than witty satire . . . When the plot takes a dark turn he demonstrates that he’s capable of taking on global issues.” — Publishers Weekly on FAITH FOR BEGINNERS
"The stuff of a Czech fairy tale.” — New York Times Book Review on THE VIEW FROM STALIN'S HEAD
“Reminiscent of David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day—Laugh-out-loud funny." — Los Angeles Times on THE VIEW FROM STALIN'S HEAD
“Steeped in rich detail about the challenges of coming to a foreign country and constantly guessing at the intentions of those offering help, this is a nuanced narrative that uncovers the harsh realities of uprooting your life, even if you reach your destination. It’s impossible not to cheer on Pearl, whose keen observations and desire to be her own boss push her through setbacks and trauma in a riveting journey to find her own freedom in an unjust world.” — Booklist
“The award-winning novelist richly captures the atmosphere in Cuba in pre-Castro times as well as the sisters’ distinctive sensibilities and their emotional journeys. It’s a story of displacement, creativity, and hope.” — Hadassah Magazine
“Resonant and rich . . . . [An] empathic, satisfying saga.” — The National Book Review
"Wholly immersive, this tale brings the time and its struggles vividly to life." — Toronto Star