Hotel Cuba

September 1, 2021

Flee­ing the chaos of World War I and the Sovi­et Rev­o­lu­tion, prac­ti­cal, sen­si­ble Pearl Kahn and her lovestruck, impul­sive younger sib­ling Frie­da hope to reach Amer­i­ca. But when dis­crim­i­na­to­ry new immi­gra­tion laws bar their entry, the young women sail instead to Havana, Cuba, con­vinced that there they will find a way to over­come this setback.

Life in big-city Pro­hi­bi­tion-era Havana is over­whelm­ing, like noth­ing Pearl and Frie­da could have imag­ined in the rur­al shtetl where they grew up. As the sis­ters adjust to their new sur­round­ings, Frie­da pur­sues the not-so-dreamy man of her dreams while Pearl’s life opens up unex­pect­ed­ly, offer­ing her a taste of free­dom, a heady romance, and an oppor­tu­ni­ty to build a future on her own terms. How­ev­er, to do so, she must con­front her past and the shame she has long carried.

A heart­break­ing, epic fam­i­ly sto­ry, Hotel Cuba explores the pro­found courage of two women dis­placed from their home who strive to cre­ate a new future in an entic­ing and dan­ger­ous world far dif­fer­ent from any­thing they have ever known.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Aaron Hamburger

  1. Con­sid­er the title Hotel Cuba. What does it mean to you? To what extent is Pearl’s stay in Cuba a tem­po­rary stop in her life’s jour­ney and to what extent has it left its mark on her char­ac­ter and the direc­tion of her life?

  2. Think about the sac­ri­fices Pearl and her sis­ter Frie­da must make in leav­ing their home and adapt­ing to a new way of life. Would you be able to make sim­i­lar sac­ri­fices in your own life? What are the costs of those sac­ri­fices for the two sisters?

  3. Pearl is an artist with nee­dle and thread. How do the clothes she works on and wears relate to what’s hap­pen­ing in her life and her mind through­out the nov­el? What do you think will hap­pen to her career at the end of the book?

  4. Com­pare Pearl’s var­i­ous attrac­tions and love inter­ests in the nov­el. Do you think she ulti­mate­ly made the right choice in terms of romance?

  5. Frie­da makes sev­er­al key life choic­es in the nov­el. Pearl has strong opin­ions about her sis­ter and the direc­tion of her life. Do you think Frie­da has made the right choic­es for her­self in the end? How do you think her mar­riage will turn out?

  6. How has Pearl’s time in Key West affect­ed her? What does she take away from the Singer fam­i­ly? And what did you make of the mys­te­ri­ous Rab­bi Singer?

  7. What do you know about the his­to­ry of the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Cuba? Do a quick search online to find out more. What do you imag­ine might have hap­pened to Pearl if she’d decid­ed to stay in Havana rather than immi­grate to the U.S.?

  8. Com­pare Pearl’s sto­ry to oth­er immi­grant sto­ries you’ve read as well as con­tem­po­rary debates about immi­gra­tion. How do we bal­ance com­pet­ing con­cerns regard­ing immi­gra­tion in a fair and just way?

  9. This book was inspired by the true sto­ry of Aaron Hamburger’s grand­moth­er. In writ­ing it, the author con­sult­ed record­ed inter­views with his grand­par­ents and did exten­sive research to fill in miss­ing details he was won­der­ing about. He also says that he want­ed to uncov­er more than just bio­graph­i­cal facts. I want­ed to breathe life into my grandmother’s expe­ri­ence, to find out what she ate, how she felt, what her impres­sions were of life in such a unique place.” What sto­ries do you know about your own fam­i­ly his­to­ry? Has it been pre­served in any way? What do you imag­ine might have got­ten lost in those sto­ries that could be brought back to life through research or imagination?


Enhance your book club! Lis­ten to a Spo­ti­fy playlist that Aaron cre­at­ed for the book or make some moji­to cookies.