The Island That Dared: Journeys in Cuba
Dervla Murphy’s Journeys in Cuba, first with her daughter and three young grand-daughters and later on her own are intrepid and revealing. Dervla captures the everyday lives of Cubans and immerses herself in the history and politics of the island. The Island That Dared begins with a three-generation family holiday in Cuba. Led by their redoubtable hard-walking grandmother, the trio of young girls and their mother soon find themselves camping out on empty beaches beneath the stars with only crabs and mosquitoes for company. This pure Swallows-and-Amazons experience launches Dervla on her quest to understand the unique society that has been created by the Cuban Revolution. She returns again and again to explore the island, investigating the experience of modern Cuba with her particular, candid curiosity. Through her own research and through conversations with Fidelistas and their critics alike, The Island That Dared builds a complex picture of a people struggling to retain their identity in the face of insistent hostility from their northern neighbour. Travelling around Cuba by bus and on foot, often over inhospitable terrain, Dervla relishes her encounters with the people she meets and she writes with passion about the country she grows to love.
'There has always been a raw energy about her work that sets her apart from some of her paler contemporaries. The merest mention of Full Tilt, her debut travelogue, an account of a high-spirited, white-knuckle bicycle ride from Ireland to India in 1963, make Murphy fans go weak at the knees. Now in her mid-70s, she has written at least 25 books but, judging by this volume she’s in no danger of mellowing … Fierce, highly moral and uncompromising, this is classic Murphy. In an often anodyne world, she remains an original … she is a refreshingly defiant voice, straight-talking and no-nonsense.' Justin Marozzi, The Financial Times
'Dervla Murphy is indefatigable – some would say incorrigible. At 77 (no secret – she confesses her age), she has just completed a series of visits to Cuba and has fallen hook, line and sinker – for its lively, courageous and often impoverished people. Miss Murphy’s great strength as a travel writer has always been her capacity to relate to the people among whom she finds herself… she brings a unique personal warmth to those she encounters.' John Ure, Country Life
'This most independent of adventurers … writes from the experience of doing Cuba the hard way. She cannot see one of the island’s ubiquitous queues without joining it, whether it’s for bread or a seat in a bone-shaking railway carriage … She has the knack of eliciting confidences and even affection from people who have learnt to be wary. Dervla Murphy’s travelogue is a close as any foreigner is likely to get to the life of Cubans on the brink. Castro’s pluck tub, Granma, is still on show in Havana, where visitors can admire her four-square lines. I hope Murphy will forgive me for saying that The Island That Dared allows us to do the same of another game old girl.' Stephen Smith, The Telegraph
'Murphy shows herself to be an acute observer of the political scene as well as displaying the exact physical notation and bloody-mindedness on which she has built her reputation. This should be required reading for all those magnetised by dreams of a holiday in Havana.' Giles Foden, Conde Nast Traveller
'There aren’t many grannies like Dervla Murphy. Deciding that her three granddaughters (aged six to ten) are ready ‘to benefit from some real travelling’, she decamps to Cuba with them and Mum in tow, and is soon introducing them to the pleasures of sleeping on mossie-plagued beaches minus food, map or any clear plan. ‘This is blissful!’ she exults. ‘But there’s stones everywhere!’ protest the Trio. Murphy’s Thesiger-like disregard for modern life (‘my genes reject car ownership, TV, washing machines, cell phones…’ – the list continues) finds a perfect home in maverick, anti-consumerist Cuba. Once freed from the encumbrances of small children (and gloriously past caring, you sense, what anyone thinks of her opinions) she ventures further into Fidel’s island, nosing into the country’s politics, culture, history and future. Of herself, she cites the Irish proverb recommending ‘the old dog (or bitch) for the hard road’. Fair enough: acute, funny, and utterly her own woman, she remains in her eighth decade a traveller – and writer – of rare pedigree.' Dan Linstead Wanderlust
'Travel legend Murphy has long been obsessed with post-revolutionary Cuba and this travelogue recounts her engaging love affair with the island mixing reportage and commentary.' The Scotsman
'There is no stopping Dervla Murphy …The Island That Dared is a unique record of ‘Cuba on the cusp’, well researched, it is crammed with fascinating information such as Bacardi’s interests in the Cuban American National Foundation – an organisation that promotes acts that ‘destabilise’ Castroism … Murphy’s well-loved blend of honesty and intrepid individuality is as apparent here as in any of her previous work.' J. S. Tennant, The Irish Times
'The new book is no rough guide to Cuba. It’s a substantial piece of work, with careful research about the Caribbean island’s history, politics and economy, woven with her observations on the ground. She sees the political system there – which allows the population little freedom of expression or freedom of movement – as a viable alternative to capitalism.'
Kate Butler, Sunday Times (Ireland)
'Intrepid and indefatigable in pursuit of experience … Murphy discovers an island in transition from hard-line socialism to moderate capitalism. The faded charm persist, but so does poverty, which is borne with a patriotic pride that continues to baffle Batista-nostalgic critics.' The Times
'Investigating the real, modern nation, rather than the pre-packaged one, with candour, she uncovers many truths along the way.' Time Out