News and Interviews

The Proust Questionnaire, with Karen Dubinsky

For Canadians, the idea of Cuba mainly conjures up all-inclusive vacations, buffets, and boozy tropical cocktails. But Karen Dubinsky's Cuba beyond the Beach: Stories of Life in Havana (Between the Lines Books) digs into the real Cuba, with its complex history and current changes, focusing on the daily lives of Havana's diverse residents. These mini-stories draw on ten years of visits as a teacher and researcher and are captured with humour, charm, and a deep and apparent love of a unique country on the brink of change. 

Karen Dubinsky Author photo


We're pleased to welcome Karen to Open Book today to take on our version of the Proust Questionnaire, where we get to know writers on a more personal level. She tells us about her dream day in Cuba, the American president who has a lot to answer for, and a type of moon you might want to travel to. 

You can see Karen in person in Toronto tomorrow at the launch of Cuba Beyond the Beach.

What is your dream of happiness?  

A sunny day wandering the streets of Havana, followed by a night at the bar at Brecht Theatre when Havana’s jazz/fusion band Interactivo is playing.  (And a nap between the two). 

What is your idea of misery?     

The speeches of Donald Trump, looping. 

Where would you like to live?       

Havana, Toronto, New York, and my cottage, simultaneously.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?   


What qualities do you admire most in a woman?     


What is your chief characteristic?  


What is your principal fault?  

I have been known to wear bossypants. 

What is your greatest extravagance?    

Plane tickets. 

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?     

Impatience (because I am not a hypocrite).

What do you value most about your friends?      

Humour and cooking ability (a tie).

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?        


What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?    

Complete lack of musical ability. 

What is your favourite virtue?                       


What would you like to be?                          

Music producer.

What historical figure do you admire the most?          

Basically any woman who made it out of the nineteenth century intact. 

What character in history do you most dislike?          

I think Ronald Reagan has a lot to answer for. 

Who are your favourite prose authors?                        

I’m pretty taken by Chimamanda Adiche, but I spent my teenage years with Agatha Christie. 

Who are your heroes in real life?                         

Anyone who has birthed a baby or immigrated: two things I’ve never done which both look really difficult. 

Who is your favourite musician?                         

Despite my love of Cuban musicianship I have to say I remain true to Bruce Springsteen. 

What is your favourite food?                           

Nothing has come close to my Ukrainian grandmother's cabbage rolls.                               

What is your favourite drink?                           

My second favourite musician, Cuba’s Carlos Varela, has a song called Una Luna de Vino Tinto, a moon of red wine. I’d like to live there. 

What is it you most dislike?                            


What natural talent would you most like to possess?           

Any drop of artistic or musical ability would be nice. 

How do you want to die?                             

When I'm ready. 

What is your current state of mind?                


What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?  

My perfect 17-year old boy, though like all children he’s a group project.                   

What is your motto?     

No es el fin.

Karen Dubinsky started visiting Cuba in 1978, and has lived in Havana intermittently since 2004. She is a professor in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University and co-teaches a course in Havana for Queen’s students. She is the author of The Second Greatest Disappointment: Honeymooning and Tourism at Niagara Falls and the co-editor of My Havana: The Musical City of Carlos Varela

Buy the Book

Cuba Beyond the Beach: Stories of Life in Havana

Havana is Cuba’s soul: a mix of Third World, First World, and Other World. After over a decade of visits as a teacher, researcher, and friend, Karen Dubinsky looks past political slogans and tourist postcards to the streets, neighbourhoods, and personalities of a complicated and contradictory city. Her affectionate, humorous vignettes illustrate how Havana’s residents—old Communist ladies, their sceptical offspring, musicians, underground vendors, entrepreneurial landlords, and poverty-stricken professors—go about their daily lives.

As Cuba undergoes dramatic change, there is much to appreciate, and learn from, in the unlikely world Cubans have collectively built for themselves.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book will go to the Queen’s University Student Overseas Travel Fund - The Sonia Enjamio Fund, which funds Cuban/Canadian student exchange.