Imagine a world in which your home has been ravaged by warfare and rioting, and all sense of freedom seems lost but for a faint glimmer of hope on the sunlit waves of the ocean. A reality so unacceptable and unhealthy that you must flee in secret–with only the support of a raft, a few strangers, and your wits to guide you–while risking death from either exposure, the barrel of a gun or barreling bombs. This is the case for five Cuban refugees in The Last Raft, by John H. Cunningham; a bold work of historical fiction with a very real premise: the 1994 Cuban Rafter Crisis.
“This is an amazing book, and extremely well-written. The issues are thoroughly explained by characters who seem to live and breathe on every page.”
– Lisa Black, the New York Times best-selling author of Every Kind of Wicked.
With a deep historical knowledge, a prowess in prose, and the luster of literary license, Cunningham details the tensions of the massive exodus in which approximately 100,000 Cubans emigrated to the United States by way of make-shift rafts- with 50,000 being detained in a makeshift tent city in Miami- where mounting civil unrest was caused by America’s political divide on how to hinder Fidel Castro’s regime.
The raft’s unlikely pairing consists of a man named Ernesto del Torres, his fiancé Maria, Manuel–a retired sugarcane worker, and Vilma–a government secretary, all led by Juan–the man who sells lies to persuade people to join him aboard the crowded raft comprised of tied together oil drums. At this time in history, Castro had given the green-light for any individuals that wished to leave the country. However, when these five stranger flee from fear and gunfire during Fidel Castro’s presidency, they brave the risk of being shot on site by the Guardia Frontera as they attempt to pursue a life of safety, and forge a path through the water for Florida.
Cunningham does not simply provide the riveting experience of this risky embarkment toward a new life in the United States, but he displays all angles of the conflict, including disputes between President Winslow (his fictional President of the U.S. in 2001) and the mistrustful Senator Spinelli, as well as those behind the communist revolution on the side of Fidel Castro. In order to cover all bases, Cunningham craftily shifts back and forth throughout history, highlighting the horrors of the crisis through the rafter’s traumas, relationships and conflict, as well as its aftermath for the rest of the world.
John H. Cunningham lives in Virginia and Key West, loves to travel, and is a jack of all trades. Apart from the nine books that he has authored, he’s also worked as a bouncer, a diver, a pilot, a magazine editor, a songwriter, and a commercial developer. As a master for blending fiction and fact, Cunningham utilizes his knowledge of various destinations (that he’s lived or visited while traversing the globe) for his stories’ many locations.
In his novels, Cunningham chooses to write not only about the locales he admires, but also the stories that he’s gathered during his travels that “concern themselves with the same tensions and issues that affect all of our lives.” Cunningham’s colorful collection of other books he’s authored include the Buck Reilly Adventures series, consisting of the following action-packed novels: Red Right Return, Green to Go, Crystal Blue, Second Chance Gold, Maroon Rising, Free Fall to Black, Silver Goodbye and White Knight.
Cunningham’s prose is thick with culture. The dialogue of The Last Raftis interwoven with the Spanish language, and the characters’ “collective desperation is woven into a complicated yet beautiful imbroglio of faith, dreams, and desire that in the end will unite or destroy them all.”
“John Cunningham’s newest effort is a remarkable blending of history, politics, and the power of the human spirit,” said Michael Reisig. “The Last Raft defines character in an individual and collective way, blending high-powered political drama and personal tragedies and triumphs. Most of all, it’s about courage and survival. You won’t forget The Last Raft.”
Don’t forget to tune in to Bookstr’s Facebook Live with John H. Cunningham on Tuesday, November 24th!