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A powerful and lively work of immersive journalism Brin Jonathan Butler's story of his time chasing the American dream through CubaWhether he's hustling his way into Mike Tyson's mansion for an interview betting his life savings on a boxing match against the favorite becoming romantically entangled with one of Fidel Castro's granddaughters or simply manufacturing press credentials to go where he wants—Brin Jonathan Butler has always been the act first ask permission later kind of journalist This book is the culmination of Butler's decade spent in the trenches of Havana trying to understand a culture perplexing to Westerners one whose elite athletes regularly forgo multimillion dollar opportunities to stay in Cuba and box for their country while living in penury Butler's fascination with this distinctly Cuban idealism sets him off on a remarkable journey training with befriending and interviewing the champion boxers that Cuba seems to produce than any other country In the process though Butler gets to know the landscape of the exhilaratingly warm Cuban culture—and starts to uestion where he feels most at home In the tradition of Michael Lewis and John Jeremiah Sullivan Butler is a keen and humane storyteller and the perfect guide for this riotous tour through the streets of Havana


10 thoughts on “The Domino Diaries

  1. says:

    The appeal of boxing lies in its simplicity It is bare stripped down and always points to the truth Butler’s writing on boxing often reflects this and he is undoubtedly one of the best boxing writers working today; though anyone expecting this book to be a simple straight forward boxing memoir may be a little disappointed This is a book about something deeper than sports and nothing about it is simple or straightforwardThe start of the book is admittedly a little muddled Butler’s family recollections and portraits of his early forays into boxing are erratic and skittish – he’s like Ali in the first round against Liston leaping around here and there landing little of significance It’s when he first visits Cuba that he really plants his feet and lets his hands go and that’s when this memoir comes into its ownButler first discovers the island as a young man in his early twenties an amateur boxer intoxicated by literature and the romance of Hemingway He ends up training with Héctor Vinent two time Olympic gold medalists and encounters various characters along the way including a memorable meeting with Gregorio Fuentes the inspiration for Hemingway’s ‘Old Man and the Sea’ Eventually he is pulled into the orbit of the legendary Guillermo Rigondeaux perhaps the greatest fighter ever to come out of Cuba and one of its most infamous defectors Butler follows Rigondeaux’s professional career in the US and examines the seismic repercussions of his defection both on the political landscape of Cuba and for those he left behindHe visits Cuba again and again interviewing family and friends of Rigodeaux and becoming enmeshed and fascinated with his story as the years roll by He’s kind of like ‘the man in black’ in HBO’s Westworld wandering through a world frozen in time looking for answers and meaning surrounded by hosts trapped in loops who know they are unable to leave and seem to grow self aware and frustrated by the minuteThe end of the river for Butler is meeting the great Teófilo Stevenson For boxing fans like myself this is the hold your –breath 'Willard meets Colonel Kurtz' moment The three time heavyweight Olympic gold medallist is the Muhammad Ali of Cuba and arguable its 2nd favourite citizen after FidelUnfortunately the Stevenson Butler finds is far removed from the great idol of yesteryear now a hopeless alcoholic in tracksuit bottoms spouting crumbling platitudes as dusty and broken down as the American car rusting in his drivewayThe man famous for turning down millions of dollars to fight in America is unable to even afford tyres for his car and the video footage of him asking for money before submitting to an interview is sobering and heart breaking As endings go though it asks far uestions than it answers It could be viewed as a scathing attack on the Cuban system though Joe Louis one of America’s most revered champions was treated far ruthlessly by a capitalist society than Stevenson ever was In Cuba an athlete does not have the freedom to fall as far as some American champions have but maybe that is a tragedy in itself?Butler writes with the heart of a pugilist and the soul of a poet and this is a book imbued with a rare passion and insight Ultimately though Cuba and its people remain an elusive uarry resisting any attempt at simple explanation It doesn’t matter what lens Butler chooses to view Cuba through – it stubbornly refuses to come into sharp focus and remains a place of mystiue and beguiling ambiguity


  2. says:

    I love this book for many reasons Brin Jonathan Butler writes a beautiful account of Cuba's final years in the US boycott As US Cuban relations improve by the day the time capsule that has been Havana since 1959 will soon be a thing of the past Butler brings the reader into this world unknown to most in the US It's also an intelligent memoir with chapters that begin with uotes from various works of literature He writes about Hemingway's Cuba which as Butler informs the reader was surprisingly bereft of politics unlike Hemingway's previous stints abroad And there's also the boxing part which is a personal account of people who have choices to leave it all behind for obscene amounts of money Some boxers he met outside Cuba have defected while others he met on the island decided to stay The end of the book reads like a thriller I also appreciated his personal story before and during his trips to Cuba Too often memoirists don't delve into their own stories but that's not the case in The Domino Diaries This book is special because it appeals to men women sports fans and people who can't be bothered with sports


  3. says:

    I see today that The Paris Review has just excerpted a chapter from Domino Diaries and I can see why Brin Jonathan Butler is an astonishing writing talent and whether he's using his gift to expose naked vulnerabilities about himself or looking at the delusions America and Cuba have about each other from 30000 feet up the sensibility he brings to his prose makes me stop breathing sometimes This book is a real gift full of drama and power and deep compassion Bravo


  4. says:

    A wonderful read that incorporates boxing Hemingway and Cuba Great for the beach or the bar and addictive enough to finish in one or two sittings


  5. says:

    Gonzo heartfelt elegiac remarkable access and insight Blown away


  6. says:

    Loved this not just for the subject a boy who fears he’s a coward turns to boxing and books to prove otherwise and the immersion in a Havana that most of us never get to know and now never will but also because Butler is often brilliant when it comes to digging in to his subjects masculinity Cuba impossible choices the ways in which we escape ourselves and imprison ourselves and Hemingway This book is sending me off to read his others all non fiction I believe And I recommend listening to an interview with Butler on “The Moment” which is a fantastic podcast


  7. says:

    fabulous story with wonderful writing Journalist put me in the middle of his fantastic experience


  8. says:

    Such an excellent book Makes me want to go to Cuba and watch some boxing Well written and completely engaging


  9. says:

    I'm normally skeptical of memoirs written by those in their 30s but Butler's is a worthwhile read More than anything this book is a love letter to the Cuban people Butler’s admiration for their resilience their spirit their generosity and their women is uickly made clear Ample uotes from Butler's Cuban friends acuaintances and lovers demonstrating conflicting opinions on the Castro regime Cuba’s difficult relationship with America and the successes and failures of the Revolution While obviously smitten by the island and its inhabitants Butler takes a nuanced approach the government While commending the huge strides Cuba has made in health and literacy Butler emphasizes that the true legacy of the Cuban Revolution may well be the hundreds if not thousands of broken families resulting from decisions to seek better fortune off the islandAn interview of former world heavyweight championship Mike Tyson opens the book Tyson notes that the great Cuban boxers fight for glory whereas their American counterparts fight for money Noting the fortunes that he won and lost over the course of his career Tyson suggests that fighting under the Castro regime may not be all that different from fighting for Don King Contrasting notions of freedom and indebtedness are a consistent theme of the book The ups and downs of great heavyweights champions like Ali Tyson and Evander Holyfield are juxtaposed with the careers of three time Olympic gold medalists Teófilo Stevenson and Félix Savón both of whom turned down multi million dollar paydays to fight Ali and Tyson respectively and are now as desperate for cash as the majority of their fellow Cubans The importance of the black market is uickly made apparent One of Butler’s acuaintances notes that no one makes a better capitalist than a communist Butler manages to secure the last interview of the great Stevenson’s life His recounting of the interview conducted for money a crime in Cuba and his telling of Stevenson’s demise is particularly poignantButler also contrasts Stevenson and Savón’s decision to adhere to the principles of the Revolution and forego million dollar paydays with the choice made by younger Cuban champions such as Guillermo Rigondeaux and Joel Castamayour to accept banishment and separation from their family The notion is that the ideals of the Revolution are no longer applicable to the younger generation is well explored and Butler’s descriptions of the horrors involved in leaving the island the sharks the rocks the kidnappers are chilling


  10. says:

    I enjoyed reading The Domino Diaries It was an eye opening peak into the Cuban culture and the sacrifices made in both directions to some of their better known boxers It is a heartfelt memoir by someone who truly loves the country Thanks to Goodreads First Reads for the opportunity