Pleasure Island explores the tourism industry in Cuba between 1920 and 1960, as international travel ceased to be primarily a privilege of the wealthy, incorporating the world's growing middle class. Rosalie Schwartz examines tourists' changing ideas of leisure and recreation, as well as the response of a colonial-era Spanish city turned fleshpot and endless cabaret. The tourism industry mushroomed in and around Havana after 1920, as hundreds of thousands of North Americans transformed the city in collaboration with a local business and political elite. The Depression, exacerbated by a bloody revolution in 1933, plunged the tourism industry into a downward spiral; its steady comeback after World War II, and its Mafia-influenced 1950s heyday, ended abruptly when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. The tourist stream was diverted to Cuba's Caribbean neighbors, where it remains.
This work is a history of a very idiosyncratic industry, as well as a study of mass tourism's influence on the behavior, attitudes, and cultures of two politically linked but diverse nations.
Rosalie Schwartz taught history at San Diego State University and is the author of Lawless Liberators: Political Banditry and Cuban Independence, winner of the 1990 Hubert Herring Book Prize.
"In her scholarly but often fascinating study, Schwartz examines the changing ideas of leisure and recreation in Havana, the ‘Paris of the Antilles’ to which U.S. tourists thronged for its forbidden enticements and never-ending cabaret. Schwartz’s report is heavily tinged with politics, of course, but high spirits and nostalgia also seep from its pages."—Miami Herald
"A well-researched description of tourism in Cuba, mainly from the Twenties to the Sixties. The emphasis is on American tourists, the most numerous until Castro, and the history is chronological, showing how World Wars I and II affected Cuban industry. Schwartz describes the Mafia influence and the state of tourism since Castro, and she also considers how tourism affects a country, any country, which makes interesting reading. An excellent history that should have broad appeal."—Library Journal
"Pleasingly written and carefully documented . . . [Schwartz] offers a valuable perspective on the present. . . . Today, Cuba’s socialist leadership is confronted with conundrums not so different from those faced by its capitalist predecessors: how to present Cuba to its international visitors, address internal pressures arising from mass tourism, and survive in the shadow of U.S. power. Schwartz details how ‘Cuba’ has repeatedly been reconfigured from the 1900s to the present, while the image of Caribbean exoticism has survived the whims of fashion and a century of drastic changes."—Choice
1998 Bolton-Johnson Prize, sponsored by the Conference on Latin American History, honorable mention
1998 Hubert B. Herring Memorial Award, sponsored by the Pacific Coast Council on Latin American Studies, winner