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Celia Sánchez Manduley

The Life and Legacy of a Cuban Revolutionary

By Tiffany A. Sippial

288 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 10 halftones

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-5460-7
    Published: January 2020
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5407-2
    Published: January 2020
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5408-9
    Published: October 2019

Envisioning Cuba

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Celia Sánchez Manduley (1920–1980) is famous for her role in the Cuban revolution. Clad in her military fatigues, this “first female guerrilla of the Sierra Maestra” is seen in many photographs alongside Fidel Castro. Sánchez joined the movement in her early thirties, initially as an arms runner and later as a combatant. She was one of Castro’s closest confidants, perhaps lover, and went on to serve as a high-ranking government official and international ambassador. Since her death, Sánchez has been revered as a national icon, cultivated and guarded by the Cuban government. With almost unprecedented access to Sánchez’s papers, including a personal diary, and firsthand interviews with family members, Tiffany A. Sippial presents the first critical study of a notoriously private and self-abnegating woman who yet exists as an enduring symbol of revolutionary ideals.

Sippial reveals the scope and depth of Sánchez’s power and influence within the Cuban revolution, as well as her struggles with violence, her political development, and the sacrifices required by her status as a leader and “New Woman.” Using the tools of feminist biography, cultural history, and the politics of memory, Sippial reveals how Sánchez strategically crafted her own legacy within a history still dominated by bearded men in fatigues.

About the Author

Tiffany A. Sippial, associate professor of history at Auburn University, is the author of Prostitution, Modernity, and the Making of the Cuban Republic, 1840–1920.
For more information about Tiffany A. Sippial, visit the Author Page.


“Sippial’s biography, based on hundreds of interviews, suggests that in the end, [Celia Sánchez Manduley’s] reticence might have been her greatest achievement, the performance that made everything else she accomplished possible.”--Guernica

“Sippial’s ‘feminist biography’ of Celia Sánchez Manduley, Fidel Castro’s right-hand woman, seeks its famously private subject in official memorials, museums, press reports, family interviews, popular culture and a cache of personal papers – only to conclude that ‘the ‘real’ Sánchez . . . is largely unknowable to us all’.”--Times Literary Supplement

“This gendered biography of Cuban guerrilla and Communist Party leader Celia Sánchez Manduley highlights how Sánchez maneuvered between traditional and nontraditional roles. Using letters from Sánchez, accounts by rebel participants, and interviews with family and friends, Sippial. . . . Explores the mythical memory of Sánchez as Fidel’s companion and Cuba’s mother. . . . This is a well-written biography.”--CHOICE

“This beautifully written biography of Celia Sánchez Manduley—perhaps the Cuban Revolution's least recognized and most important leader—is both a brilliant piece of scholarship and an engrossing story that brings the woman, time, place, and revolutionary process alive. Those steeped in the revolution and those new to it will better understand why it mattered and will continue to matter.”—Eric Selbin, author of Revolution, Resistance, and Rebellion: The Power of Story

“In this unprecedented critical biography, Sippial opens a window onto the consciousness of Celia Sánchez Manduley, possibly the Cuban Revolution's staunchest loyalist and one of Fidel Castro's primary confidantes. Sánchez emerges as a savvy architect of the post-1959 revolutionary regime who attempted to limit its authoritarian contradictions. That Sippial is one of very few to ever gain access to the state's official historical archive since Sánchez inaugurated it in 1964  alone makes this book mandatory reading for anyone interested in learning how revolutionary Cuba became Communist Cuba in less than two decades."--Lillian Guerra, author of Visions of Power

“A nuanced and sensitively written biography, drawing on exciting new sources, of one of the most important and yet still poorly understood figures of the Cuban Revolution. Celia Sánchez Manduley provides a rich, multilayered account of Sánchez’s life and legacy, while raising important questions about feminist biography and the politics of memory.”—Michelle Chase, author of Revolution within the Revolution