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The Lost Apple by Maria de los Angeles Torres

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

Sometimes, a book comes along that illuminates a subject far removed from its ostensible topic.  THE LOST APPLE is such a book.  Subtitled "Operation Pedro Pan, Cuban Children in the U.S., and the Promise of a Better Future," THE LOST APPLE is a detailed examination of the flood of Cuban children, over 14,000 strong, who were shipped to the USA for "safe-keeping" after the Castro Revolution changed the balance of power on that Caribbean island.  The author was one of these children, and is now a political science professor at DePaul University.  She has spent the last decade researching this incident, which involved the largest transfer of minors in the Western Hemisphere, by contacting other Pedro Pan kids now grown up, by interviewing Pedro Pan organizers, and by seeking however much of the written record that is publicly available.

When Castro took power in 1959, the Cuban middle class became divided.  Many knew of the corruption that had attended the previous Batista regime, but then again many had benefited from it.  Many were sympathetic to Castro's stated aims, but also knew his administration would mean a lessening of U.S. corporate involvement in Cuba, and an end to their privileged positions and status.  A rumor started circulating that Castro intended to take children away from their parents and make them wards of the state, the better to indoctrinate these ninos and ninas with Castroism.  Pedro Pan was a reaction to this.  Better to send children to the USA where relatives or Cuban Americans could care for them until the threat to private family parenting
was squelched.

Fans of Fidel charged that Pedro Pan was a CIA plot.  It would deprive Castro of many promising youngsters and slander the aims of La Revolucion.  Anti-Castro Cubans and Cuban Americans positioned Pedro Pan as a grand humanitarian gesture, in the tradition of the kindertransport in Europe during World War II.  To Torres's credit, she refuses to get caught up in either partisan camp.  She presents the evidence for both views.  She documents the Jacobin nature of Castro's upheaval and mourns family friends who were imprisoned or disappeared.  But she also tracks enough of the 14,000 to raise some disturbing questions.  Some of these powerless children were abused by the very people responsible for their welfare.  And even more
felt a profound dislocation from the land of their birth, a dislocation that still haunts many decades afterwards.

Torres went back to Cuba.  She visited elderly people in Miami and elsewhere who had Pedro Pan institutional memory.  She even sued the CIA in a vain attempt to get them to disgorge their records.  She effectively demonstrates that no side has "clean hands" in this struggle, where the ultimate victims were those too young to realize what was happening to them.

So why did I open this review with a statement that THE LOST APPLE illuminates a subject beyond its seeming scope?  Because of the wealth of detail that Torres adduces suggesting covert U.S. intelligence involvement in Pedro Pan.  The CIA had the power to grant visas and used this power to create maximum disruption for the new Cuban government.  The CIA had money it could use to encourage the policies it favored.  The CIA was way more involved in destabilizing Cuba than it ever let on, yet refused to admit this to the American taxpayers who funded their operations.  America criticizes other countries for using the weak or the young as political pawns, but stoops to the same hypocritical behavior when this serves its interests.  American intelligence may well have brought us to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 by its officious intermeddling in Cuba before Castro declared his allegiance to communism and the USSR.  THE LOST APPLE does not prove this audacious statement, but it adds one more set of circumstances that, in total, allow this chilling inference to be made.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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