Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: Next Year In Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Publisher: Berkley

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

There are so many wonderful characters in this story, but I am only going to spend my time on two of them: Marisol and her grandmother, Elisa. These two women make the story the magical, thrilling joyride that it is. The story is told through alternating viewpoints and chapters – some in present day with Marisol and some in 1950’s Havana with Elisa Perez. Both Marisol and Elisa’s point of views were fascinating but as the story progressed, I found myself longing for more of Elisa’s life in Cuba.

Elisa was my favorite perspective to read from because of the depth of knowledge we received about her life in Cuba – she became real to me; she jumped off the page and felt like a friend. She was brave, na├»ve, passionate, and completely willing to live her life on a leap of faith. I fell in love with Cuba through her eyes and supported her every move by the end of the story.

Marisol was trying her best to learn her grandmother’s history and why she kept so many secrets from her. She wanted desperately to feel connected to her grandmother, since her recent passing, and I felt a strong pull toward Marisol because of her devotion to keep her grandmother’s legacy alive. Walking the streets of Cuba with Marisol for the first time was a breath of fresh air and a fresh perspective of what the country is probably like today.

My best friend is Cuban and her family immigrated to the United States from Cuba during Castro’s reign, so I am slightly familiar with the political intrigue, terror, and devastation that the country has suffered throughout the years. However, I now feel like I have a more vast and vivid knowledge of what Cubans endured during the reigns of both Batista and Castro. This novel was true historical fiction in its more extraordinary form. This was a history lesson in disguise and I loved learning all that I did about the country and the suffrage withstood by its citizens.

The descriptions of the city of Havana and the major landmarks described created full scenarios in my mind as I pictured Elisa and Pablo walking toward arm in arm after one of their evenings full of discussions and shared dreams. I would love to visit Havana if it were only half as beautiful as Chanel Cleeton describes throughout her novel. Her words are poetic, tender, and capture what I can only imagine was one of the most devastating times in Cuba’s history. 

I am Cuban, and yet, I am not. I don’t know where I fit here, in the land of my grandparents, attempting to recreate a Cuba that no longer exists in reality.

There is no home for us in a world where we can’t speak our minds for fear of being thrown in prison, where daring to dream is a criminal act, where you aren’t limited by your own ability and ambition, but instead by the whims of those who keep a tight rein on power.

We carry our home with us in our hearts, laden with hope. So much hope.

Loyalty is a complicated thing - where does family fit in the hierarchy?

Above or below country? Above or below the natural order of things? Or are we above all else loyal to ourselves, to our hearts, our convictions, the internal voice that guides us?

I was sad when I flipped the last page and Elisa and Marisol’s story was over. The characters are still with me. The political history behind Cuba’s infamous dictators has intrigued me so much that I have spent the last two days conducting research of my own and learning more about this beautiful country. I was probably the most happy when I learned that Cleeton plans to release another book next year following the life of Elisa’s eldest sister, Beatriz. Ecstatic is an understatement. I cannot wait for more of Cleeton’s Cuba!

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