fizzytom 4


Add to my Circle of Trust

Subscribe to reviews

About me: Finally made the move to Slovenia and loving it!

Member since:21.07.2003


Members who trust:256


Dervla Unravels the Cuban Enigma


Great writing, learn lots about Cuba

Less than usual about the author's own experience

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

How useful was it?

Would you read it again?

Degree of InformationVery high

How easy was it to read / get information fromRelatively easy

How interesting was the book?Captivating

Value for moneyGood

53 Ciao members have rated this review on average: very helpful See ratings
exceptional by (2%):
  1. plipplopfromdooyoo
very helpful by (97%):
  1. BristolBud
  2. TheHairyGodmother
  3. silverstreak
and 53 other members
helpful by (2%):
  1. KHetherington

View all ratings

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

Share this review on

In her latest literary outing, the now elderly and increasingly opinionated travel writer and veteran cyclist Dervla Murphy describes a series of trips to Cuba. The opening section deals with a family trip in late 2005. Readers who have followed Dervla's books from the beginning will have grown up with Rachel, the author's daughter, who accompanied her on a number of trips between the ages of five and eighteen. Now Dervla travels with Rachel and Rachel's three young daughters, Clodagh, Rose and Zea, known for ease throughout the book as the Trio. The middle section sees Dervla return alone to spend several months trekking in places such as the Sierra del Escambray mountains, and in the final third of the book, Dervla returns to the city of Santa Clara for the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of the death of Ernesto Che Guevara.

Those who are familiar with Dervla's travel writing will know that her books are more than mere travelogues; they are meticulously researched and present a thorough background to the history and politics of any destination she visits. "The Island that Dared" is more of the same: in fact at times it's too much and the factual content overshadows the travel writing. That said, Dervla uses a variety of sources for her research and the result is perhaps the best insight into contemporary Cuba that I have so far read. As she travels, Dervla occasionally gets to talk to Cuban intellectuals about the Revolution and their thoughts on and expectations for the future. I was disappointed that she doesn't talk more to ordinary Cubans about what they think (of course, many will have been wary about being seen talking to a foreigner). On the other hand, the interviews with exiles living in Florida were fascinating and added an extra dimension not always covered in texts on Cuba.

This is vintage Dervla and her descriptions of the stunning scenery – on the coast and in the mountains – and of the attractive colonial buildings are wonderfully evocative. I would have liked a bit more about the homes she stayed in but I'm always greedy for more Dervla. Her resourcefulness and resilience shine through as always and her attempts to try to persuade the locals that she is merely an old lady who likes hiking and not a case for a dementia specialist make for great reading.

I found that the section I most enjoyed was the one where she travels with her family which surprised me as previously I liked best the books in which Dervla travelled alone. The grandchildren prove to be excellent travel companions even though Dervla several times has to make compromises she'd probably rather not. Later when she returns to Cuba to travel on her own she says that she'd be back to normal. Now, Dervla has never been one for hot sticky climates, but I soon found her complaints about the heat and the humidity quite tedious. This was only the beginning of a list of grumbles and irritations that spoilt my enjoyment somewhat. It's a side of her not usually seen but then again, she has favoured colder climates of late. Having travelled independently in Cuba myself I am familiar with the excessive bureaucracy, the unnecessarily long time it takes to get anywhere and the fluctuations in quality of private accommodation. It needled me a little to read about Dervla trying to sidestep the rules, often to the detriment or inconvenience of those trying to help her.

I'd recommend The Island that Dared with certain reservations. The author repeatedly tells us that Cuba is essentially about the people but I felt this wasn't reflected overall. There's perhaps too much emphasis on context and not enough focus on the people who live with the Revolution as it works (or doesn't) today. However, if you do want to know more about the background to the revolution this is required reading. Dervla is as eloquent as ever, making an engaging and authoritative guide to one of the world's last enigmas. While Cuba may not be the least visited of the destinations Dervla has covered, she certainly helps her readers know it better.

This is an amended version of my review that was first published at

432 pages

  Write your own review

Share this review on


Rate this review »

How helpful would this review be to a person making a buying decision? Rating guidelines

Rate as exceptional

Rate as somewhat helpful

Rate as very helpful

Rate as not helpful

Rate as helpful

Rate as off topic

Write your own review Write a review and you will earn 0.5p per rating if other members rate your review at least helpful. Write a review and you will earn 0.5p per rating if other members rate your review at least helpful.   Report a problem with this review’s content

Comments about this review »

greenierexyboy 03.04.2010 12:08

Che's dead? I wonder if all those tedious students with his likeness on t-shirts are aware of that.

paulpry118 01.04.2010 22:47

Sounds quite good

kineticspade 01.04.2010 21:09

Great review x

Add your comment

max. 2000 characters

  Post comment

Product Information »

Product details

EAN 9781906011352
Type Non-Fiction
Genre Travel
Subgenre Travel writing
Title The Island That Dared
Author Dervla Murphy
Publisher Eland Publishing
All Authors Dervla Murphy
Country Cuba
Continent Caribbean

Show all Product Information

Review Ratings »

This review of The Island That Dared - Dervla Murphy has been rated:

"exceptional" by (2%):

  1. plipplopfromdooyoo

"helpful" by (2%):

  1. KHetherington

The overall rating of a review is different from a simple average of all individual ratings.

Products you might be interested in »

Russia - Jonathan Dimbleby

Russia - Jonathan Dimbleby

Non-Fiction - Travel - Travel writing - Europe - Russia - ISBN: 563539127

User reviews (1)

Buy now for only £ 4.70

Spanish Lessons - Derek Lambert

Spanish Lessons - Derek Lambert

Non-Fiction - Travel - Travel writing - Europe - Spain - ISBN: 91912504

User reviews (1)

Buy now for only £ 0.01

America Unchained - Dave Gorman

America Unchained - Dave Gorman

Non-Fiction - Travel - Travel writing - North America - USA - ISBN: 91899338

User reviews (1)

Buy now for only £ 6.69

Are you the manufacturer / provider of The Island That Dared - Dervla Murphy? Click here