When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton is a gorgeous novel about love, loss and home. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, check out my preview and review first.
The Cuban Revolution took everything from sugar heiress Beatriz Perez–her family, her people, her country. Recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle and pulled into the dangerous world of espionage, Beatriz is consumed by her quest for revenge and her desire to reclaim the life she lost.
As the Cold War swells like a hurricane over the shores of the Florida Strait, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful man driven by ambitions of his own. When the ever-changing tides of history threaten everything she has fought for, she must make a choice between her past and future–but the wrong move could cost Beatriz everything–not just the island she loves, but also the man who has stolen her heart…
Let’s get into the discussion questions
- First off, let’s go back to the prologue. What were your initial thoughts when reading it? Who sent Beatriz the champagne?
- The story then goes back to 1960 when Beatriz and her family are trying to make a new life in the U.S. Why do you think Beatriz wasn’t content with becoming a wife and mother? Let’s discuss her motivations for working with the CIA.
- What do you think about her first encounter with Nick? While Nick is a fictional senator, do you think he was based off any real-life politicians of that era?
- The book is quite descriptive—the settings of both Palm Beach and Cuba; the style and clothes of the era; plus Kennedy references. What stuck out to you the most about the ’60s era while you read this?
- There’s much historical and political facts covered in this from the Cuban Missile Crisis to Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. In addition, Chanel provides plenty of context about these events from a Cuban American perspective. Did you learn anything new from reading the novel?
- Let’s talk about the sections dedicated to Beatriz being undercover! She engages with Castro in-person twice—with the second being a failed assassination attempt. How would you rate Beatriz’s spy skills? Do you think she went on to many other kinds of undercover adventures after these events?
- Nick and Beatriz are very much in love but there’s so much pulling them apart. Beyond family and society disapprovals, both are very motivated in different areas: Nick with dreams of becoming president and Beatriz with knowing that even if Castro dies, there’s more work for her to do. She thinks to herself:
If I had two lives, I would live one with him and one in Cuba. But I just have this one, and I’ve already committed it elsewhere.
What did she mean by this?
- Let’s talk about the hard decision for them to separate. Do you believe it was the right decision for the both of them? Or you think there was a possibility for them to stay together at that time? Say if Beatriz gave up the CIA and married Nick, do you think she would have lived an unsatisfied life?
- Beatriz is determined not to become like her mother—simply a pretty face that goes to fancy parties. How did that “rebellion” influence much of her decision making?
- Let’s discuss her relationship with Eduardo. Why did he stay in Cuba and leave America behind? Do you think he would have stayed if Beatriz would have shown interest in him? Let’s discuss the ways they are similar.
- Now let’s talk the end of the book! We learn that Beatriz lived quite a life—had more missions, became a lawyer, traveled the world. What do you think about her reunion with Nick? What’s next for the two of them?
- What are some of the key themes of the novel that stuck out to you?
- Have you read Next Year in Havana?
More historical fiction picks
Historical fiction is such a fantastic genre! Here’s some more recommendations:
If you haven’t read Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana, make it your next read! Plus, Beatriz make a cameo in that story.
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.
If you’re looking for another novel that will tug at your heart strings, you simply must read Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid!
Everyone knows DAISY JONES & THE SIX, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.
Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock ’n’ roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.
Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.
Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.
The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.
Feel free to discuss When We Left Cuba below!