Taking the form of a short travel diary, Rum Socialism follows our Canadian protagonist as he stumbles through the kind of vignettes which are typically relayed in the pub after a drink filled man holiday. He finds himself, among many other things dealing with Cuban police, being scammed by hookers and meeting an assortment of colourful characters.
As he pines over ever dwindling pints, Romanuik also takes some respite to analyse the workings and failings of a communist land. He, being a political science graduate, speaks of his political opinions and observations confidently. He paints effectively an image of an opressed and alien society in which the people are controlled with an odd blend of fear and reverance.
During the prologue of the book Kris Romanuik does write a small discliamer in which he claims no great knowledge of Cuban politics. It is during these sections of political discussion, however, when Rum Socialism flows and works best due to the author’s confidence in politics being stronger than his confidence in journalistic writing. Although it doesn’t seem that a journalstic approach was quite the angle that he was shooting for.
There is a Gonzo feel to the whole affair, as any chemically imbalanced subjectivly bent writing will do. If it was intentional then it has been pulled off pretty nicely. While the journalistic element is not as central to Rum and Socialism as to Thompson or the likes, the humour is, and Romanuik proves to have a caustic and dark sense of humour suited to his style.
The conversational language works for and against Rum Socialism. It works for it, in that it could almost be somebody you just met at a bar, drinking a pint telling you of their crazy holiday this summer. It works against it, in that it could almost be somebody you just met at a bar, drinking a pint telling you of their crazy holiday this summer. Sometimes it’s funny and endearing, other times it’s pretty crass and in your face. Some of his physical descriptions of women had me laughing and cringing with a dash of shame.
Romanuik paces the book well. It opens rather innocuosly at the airport and gradually builds in drama, laughs and tension until before you know it he’s flying across cuban roads in a police car in the middle of the night hunting criminals. There’s also an interesting sub-plot based around his failing relationship with his girlfriend back home. It rounds off nicely and manages to end with a message of better understanding set to an unhappy image of the conservatives just having won majority government.
Rum and Socialism is available now as an e-book through kindle or kindle apps. It’s my first real experience with an e-book and it wasn’t too bad. Besides the sore eyes there were a few cool features like having various hyperlinked words within the text, these would direct you to the website of the bar in which he was drinking or the wiki of a chupacabra. I don’t think I’m converted but it wasn’t the nightmare I expected.
It’s an interesting book and one to look for if you’re interested in Cuban politics and drunken tales. An unusual combination but one that seemingly works.