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To Die in Cuba

Suicide and Society

By Louis A. Pérez Jr.

480 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 78 illus., 22 tables, 2 figs., notes, index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5816-5
    Published: February 2007
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-0874-7
    Published: December 2012

H. Eugene and Lillian Youngs Lehman Series

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Awards & distinctions

2007 Elsa Goveia Prize, Association of Caribbean Historians

For much of the nineteenth century and all of the twentieth, the per capita rate of suicide in Cuba was the highest in Latin America and among the highest in the world--a condition made all the more extraordinary in light of Cuba's historic ties to the Catholic church. In this richly illustrated social and cultural history of suicide in Cuba, Louis A. Pérez Jr. explores the way suicide passed from the unthinkable to the unremarkable in Cuban society.

In a study that spans the experiences of enslaved Africans and indentured Chinese in the colony, nationalists of the twentieth-century republic, and emigrants from Cuba to Florida following the 1959 revolution, Pérez finds that the act of suicide was loaded with meanings that changed over time. Analyzing the social context of suicide, he argues that in addition to confirming despair, suicide sometimes served as a way to consecrate patriotism, affirm personal agency, or protest injustice. The act was often seen by suicidal persons and their contemporaries as an entirely reasonable response to circumstances of affliction, whether economic, political, or social.

Bringing an important historical perspective to the study of suicide, Pérez offers a valuable new understanding of the strategies with which vast numbers of people made their way through life--if only to choose to end it. To Die in Cuba ultimately tells as much about Cubans' lives, culture, and society as it does about their self-inflicted deaths.

About the Author

Louis A. Pérez Jr. is J. Carlyle Sitterson Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is author of numerous books on Cuba, including Cuba: Between Reform and Revolution and On Becoming Cuban: Identity, Nationality, and Culture.
For more information about Louis A. Pérez Jr., visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"Beautifully-written, well-organized, and thoroughly researched. . . . Undoubtedly an important work for anyone interested in Cuban society and culture."--Florida Historical Quarterly

"[A] well-argued and fascinating book that speaks to historians and suicide experts. . . . A provocative study that makes an important contribution to the history of suicide."--Bulletin of the History of Medicine

"Provides the reader with a valuable insight into the mindset of Cubans and helps to explain a previously unexplored aspect of Cuban history. . . . A surprisingly enjoyable read and should be read by those interested in Latin America, regardless of their academic discipline."--Journal of Third World Studies

"[A] thought-provoking, informative, and elegant study. It is--controversy and all--a brilliant cultural history of suicide in the Cuban national imaginary."--American Historical Review

"Provocative and culturally penetrating. . . . [Filled] with clarity of purpose and lucid prose. . . . The product of prodigious research and insightful analysis. . . . It should be mandatory reading for scholars and students of Cuban history, Caribbean history, Latin American cultural history, and, more broadly, historians interested in national identity."--New West Indian Guide

"This important book both illuminates the place of suicide in Cuban society and offers an innovative reexamination of Cuban nationalism. . . . [An] extraordinarily valuable contribution to our understanding of Cuban culture and politics."--National Period