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Review: When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

Review: When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton

When We Left Cuba by Chanel Cleeton is a beautiful novel about love—for country, for romance and for yourself. I’m so excited to be part of the blog tour for this novel!

As I mentioned in my preview, I so enjoyed Chanel’s previous novel, Next Year in Havana. And even though Beatriz has a small role in that novel, she sure was memorable! And her story in When We Left Cuba is full of excitement, intrigue, heartbreak but, most of all, strength.

In her author’s note, Chanel says that while Next Year in Havana focused on the events of the revolution, she wanted When We Left Cuba to focus on what happened after, on the fight to reclaim Cuba and the role it played on the world stage.

The story begins with a prologue in 2016 in Palm Beach. Fidel Castro is dead and someone sent Beatriz champagne to celebrate. And she’s knows exactly who sent it. We then go back to 1960 Palm Beach where Beatriz and her family are trying to find their footing in America after being forced to flee Cuba. Not content with simply becoming a wife and mother, Beatriz is recruited by the CIA to infiltrate Fidel Castro’s inner circle. As the Cold War continues to gain in steam, Beatriz is caught between the clash of Cuban American politics and the perils of a forbidden affair with a powerful politician. 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.

Meet Beatriz, one of my favorite protagonists ever

I had high expectations for Beatriz’s story and Chanel more than delivered! Beatriz is intelligent, independent and resourceful. Plus, she’s strong as hell. After the prologue, her story starts off with her declining a marriage invitation from a wealthy man. So you know right off the bat that she’s not one to settle. But she’s not without vulnerabilities. Her brother was believed to be killed by Castro and revenge is always at the top of her mind. And she also falls for a charming senator who is kind and respects the woman she is—however, their worlds are so different. But most of all, she is forced to come to terms with the fact that the Cuba she grew up with will never return. But that doesn’t mean she has to stop fighting for her country.

There’s so much to unravel with Beatriz. She’s definitely ahead of her time with wanting more out of life than a simple dosmetic existence. She’s oftentimes counted out due to her beauty and gender. And that’s one reason her CIA opportunity is that more enticing. She uses both of those to her advantage but it’s her intellect that really makes her successful. While I knew that Beatriz goes undercover, the espionage sections are a stand-out! In many ways, it felt like reading a traditional spy novel. It’s so compelling.

The love story is so well-done and quite believable. Chanel has a talented way of incorporating romance but ensuring there’s still a lot of honesty and it’s not simply a fantasy. Very beautiful and it will pull at your heart strings.

Historical events

Both historical and political events are told in such a gripping way. We talked about the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis in school from American’s point of view but Beatriz, as a native Cuban, brings a fresh look at that conflict.

Beatriz and her family were forced to flee Cuba and come to the U.S.; it wasn’t by choice. And Chanel really touches on the concept of home—both losing it and trying to find a new one. There’s a tragic nature to that aspect, too.

This is a captivating historical fiction novel with so many layers. At the heart of the novel, is a woman on a path to self-discovery. It’s a must-read!