Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is a beautiful and passionate book about the strength of sacrifice. As I mentioned in my preview, Cuba is somewhat of a mystery. There’s the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro’s long rule and famous tales of Hemingway in Old Havana. But obviously Cuba is much more than that. Next Year in Havana is a tale of forbidden love but also provides a look at Cuba’s past and present.
In her acknowledgments, Cleeton called Next Year in Havana “the book of my heart.” And you truly can get a sense of the deep personal connection found in this fiction book. She says the inspiration came from her family’s exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. When her grandparents were forced to leave Cuba, they buried their valuables in their backyard, hoping to return to it one day. This action is an important component to the book.
The narrative is told from two perspectives and time periods. The year is 1958 in Havana and the country is changing at a rapid pace due to political unrest. Elisa Perez is the sheltered daughter of a wealthy sugar baron. Her life takes a fateful turn when she begins a passionate affair with a revolutionary named Pablo.
The other is told from Elisa’s granddaughter Marisol Ferrera who travels to Cuba in 2017 to fulfill Elisa’s wishes of having her ashes scattered in Cuba. When she comes to Havana, she experiences Cuba’s beauty and tense political climate. She also meets Luis with his own secrets.
While Elisa and Marisol are similar in many ways, and even look a bit like each other, Cleeton did a good job of balancing the narrative between the two and making them sound distinct. I liked how their stories were connected in some ways, especially when it comes to falling for men passionate about a free Cuba.
While there is plenty of romance in the book, don’t expect a romance novel. Pillow talk between the two couples are about the state of Cuba. I believe all the political talk is to show the varying perspectives and ideas from different generations.
A big theme of the novel is family loyalty but also expectations. Almost every character we encounter from Elisa, Marisol to Luis are fiercely loyal to their families. Elisa and Marisol also deal with expectations to live a certain way that they don’t always agree with.
Elisa’s sisters are mentioned throughout the book. One sister, the legendary Beatriz, will be the focus of Cleeton’s next novel coming out in 2019. Excited to see where her story goes.
Those who left vs those who stayed
An interesting component to the book was the division between those who left Cuba and those who stayed. The ones who left Cuba had to adjust to a new country and try to preserve their heritage. While the ones who stayed dealt with plenty of cruel and unfair hardships. Cleeton talks about how those who came to the U.S. hate Castro with an unrelenting passion since he took away their country. While those who remain in Cuba, had to abide by the government even if they didn’t always agree with it. Cleeton presents both sides fairly and how much each had to sacrifice.
Love for country
There isn’t freedom of speech in Cuba, which is prevalent throughout the novel. There’s some tense moments in the book where you feel the terror of the government’s hold on its people.
But the passion for the country is relentless. Cleeton does an exceptional job of painting Havana with its flaws and natural beauty.
So what’s the verdict?
Next Year in Havana is a good read with plenty of history, some romance and even a small mystery. Whether it’s for a book club or just for you, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!