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Review: "Lunch with Fellini, Dinner with Fidel" by Deena Stryker

Deena Stryker's memoir puts a face on historically significant events from the Cold War to the Arab Spring. This edition contains 63 photographs illustrating a journey that is not only a deeply personal one but also a professional exploration of our times.

Stryker’ narrative begins in Philadelphia in the 1930s. The defining moment of her teenage years came when she is sent to live with her father and step-mother in post-WWII France. It is here that she begins to notice something more than her personal drama; she becomes aware of a historical and political context that will play out alongside her personal life.

Her first real brush with celebrity comes when she interviews Fellini after the cinematic bombshell of La Dolce Vita. Fellini liked her style and offered her a job as press officer during the shooting of his next film, 8 1/2. She describes nostalgically the people, the feeling on the set, the sense of frustration and impatience always calmed by the appearance of Fellini himself, "a paragon of good humor and diplomacy."

Fellini and WhirlwhindBy the time 8 1/2 wrapped, Stryker was planning her next coup: Cuba. In the tense period following the Cuban Missile Crisis, she was one of the first Western journalists to obtain access to the Cuban leadership. Her interactions with these revolutionaries offer insight into their politics and most interestingly, their personalities.

The two years she spent in Cuba are the most fascinating parts of Stryker's memoir. It is obvious that her persistent and open demeanor went over well with these men who were portrayed in the West as brutal troublemakers. Raul Castro and the intensely private Che Guevara are among her interviews.

Slouched in his chair, head down, Che flipped the pages. It was the only chance I had to take a few pictures in the room shaded against the sun. Afterward, I sent him the one I liked best, a close-up that shows his uncompromising, mocking intelligence.

Che Guevara

Stryker describes the events that lead to his picture of her that now graces the cover of this book:

When we met on the reviewing stand during one of Fidel's speeches, [Che] said my picture of him was terrible. When I dared him to do better, he borrowed my camera and took one of me that made me look like a kindly grand-mother.

Stryker's personal narrative leads us through several marriages, two children, and numerous countries. In the 60s she spent five years behind the real Iron Curtain, then she zig-zagged between Western Europe and the U.S. In 2001 she came back to the U.S. for good, where unexpected revelations closed the circle of her journey.

Stryker's story is engrossing not only for the historical context but also for her unique perspective. Her prose is both highly readable and refreshing in its honesty--her life and loves make for fascinating reading.


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