by Lisandro Pérez
On October 14, 2023, only four days after the official release date of my book, The House on G Street: A Cuban Family Saga, I presented it at my favorite bookstore, Books & Books, in Coral Gables, Florida. A little more than forty years ago, when I was a fledgling academic, Books & Books was just a small 500 sq. ft. store. I would buy there the books I could not find in the chain stores that once dominated the Miami book retail market. Since then, its owner and founder, Mitchell Kaplan, has become South Florida’s foremost bookseller, with six stores throughout the region. The flagship store in Coral Gables, where I presented my book, is more than a bookstore; it is Miami’s premier venue for literary events and for informal gatherings in its welcoming café and restaurant.
Books & Books was the appropriate venue to launch this very personal book. The House on G Street tells the story of Cuba through the lens of my own family. It is a book full of the family stories I have been hearing all my life, stories that I have supplemented with my own research into my ancestors and into the historical events that shaped their lives. I wrote it as contribution to Cuban history, but also as a legacy to the more than eighty living descendants of my grandparents.
After leaving Cuba in the 1960s, Miami became the closest thing to home. It is where most members of my extended family live and the place where I have resided most of my life. Miami is where a majority of Cuban Americans live, a community whose members would find in this book part of their own story. It was therefore appropriate that I launch the book there, in the premier bookstore in the area. It was in many ways a homecoming.
Cristina Nosti, the Events Director for Books & Books, realized this immediately when I called to tell her about the book and explore the possibility of launching it at their flagship store. Without hesitation, the first thing she said was: “I have October 14th, a Saturday, available at 7:00 p.m., a prime slot. Let’s book it.”
The event was a success. It was standing room only, with a mix of family members, friends, interested members of the community, and a smattering of local academic colleagues. I would not have attracted such a diverse crowd if this had been a purely scholarly book. The House on G Street, to be sure, is grounded in extensive research, with nearly three hundred endnotes and more than one hundred and forty sources and references, including archival collections. But I strove to write it in an engaging storytelling style, in the first person, adding to it my own memories of the period in which the Cuba that I and my ancestors knew started unraveling. I wanted to make sure that I reached a broad audience, for I am describing a lost world, one that has frequently been demonized by Cuban historiography, but which I have tried to humanize by presenting how my ancestors lived ordinary lives that were emblematic of that space and time. I very much believe that I am contributing towards bridging the divisions that have long existed between the island and its diaspora.
The House on G Street is therefore a book that is hard to categorize, and I was concerned that it would therefore fall into the cracks between academic and trade publishers, since it was not clearly one thing or another. But I followed my wife’s advice: “send the manuscript to whom you know and trust.” That, of course, is New York University Press, which in 2018 published my previous book, Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York. The Press, and my editor, Clara Platter, took a chance on The House on G Street, which should not have surprised me. Their book list is evidence that they are willing to bridge the gap, bringing scholarly works into the conversations on national and international issues with books that reach broad audiences with lively content and attractive formats (those covers!).
I am hoping that NYU Press is as glad as I am that they published this book. Not only have my academic colleagues praised it, but, most importantly, so has my 91-year-old aunt, who never went to college but lived through much of the history that is at the core of The House on G Street.
Lisandro Pérez is Professor in the Department of Latin American and Latinx Studies at John Jay College, City University of New York and author of Sugar, Cigars, and Revolution: The Making of Cuban New York.