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, 19-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.
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“The exiles are the historians, the memory keepers of a lost Cuba, one that’s nearly forgotten.”
Elisa Perez is from a wealthy background, secure in what her role was to be, not only as a Perez, but also as a Cuban. Under Batista’s rule, her family had favor but at what cost? We see Cuba through Elisa’s innocent eyes. From the rush of excitement meeting her first love and revolutionary, and her naïveté of a reality facing Cuba outside her gilded walls, to her world crumbling as the political regime fails and her heartsick worry over an unknown future comes to fruition, the Cuba she knew is ending. The love for her family pulled her in one direction, while the love of a man fighting for his country pulled her in yet another, but it forced Elisa to see life past her safety bubble and realize how much more she had to offer…if she only took that first step.
“At the end of the day, the only thing you have left is what you stand for.”
Pablo, Elisa’s revolutionary love, fought for his convictions and was determined to free his countrymen from a dictator. Granted, we know Cuba traded one for another, but at the time, Castro seemed like a good choice to Pablo to help break free of Batista’s tyranny. Meeting Pablo changed Elisa’s life in many ways, some painful and some unexpectedly joyful, but I believe it changed Pablo too. He saw his fight in a different light because she gave him hope a better future existed, one he had never considered before.
60 years after her grandmother and her family escape Cuba, Elisa’s granddaughter, Marisol, returns to Cuba to lay her grandmother’s ashes to rest. Staying with her grandmother’s childhood friend Ana and her family, including her grandson Luis, Marisol’s trip takes a few…personal, unexpected turns. Growing up on stories from her grandmother and her great aunts left Marisol with a romanticized version of Cuba, one that was frozen in time through memories and a longing of the way things used to be before Castro came to power. However, when faced with the true reality of what was truly left behind, Marisol is left floundering on where she truly fits in as a Cuban-American. As she tells Luis
“…I’m a visitor here, a guest in my own country.”
“Then you know what it means to be Cuban…We always reach for something beyond our grasp.”
Luis was a modern day revolutionary. Teaching history at the University by day, while working his family’s restaurant at night, Luis was a fascinating take on the current political climate. I could draw so many parallels between Luis and Pablo in their beliefs and identity, but simply put, they were strong individuals in their own right fighting for the same thing, just in two different eras and with mixed results.
“…the double-edged sword to being Cuban-we are both pragmatic realists and consummate dreamers.”
This book was an amazing read! Chanel Cleeton did her research and captures the romance and myth, of old and new Cuba with so much passion, it bleeds all over the pages! She conveys so much emotion in these characters…it was hard not to get sucked into their daily lives, even when you know what’s coming for Cuba. I could not tear my eyes away from the magic this story wove! (Seriously, I was reading at work whenever I had the chance to snatch a few pages in.) Passionate, riveting, heartbreaking, romantic, raw…I don’t know if I can find the appropriate words to justify the feelings this book provoked, but I can say this book is worth its weight in gold. Chanel Cleeton took a dark bit of history and brought it to light with characters full of hope and zest for a better chance at life. I find myself looking at Cuba with new eyes and a hefty dose of respect, for the struggles the people have overcome in order to survive. Definitely recommend this read!
This week I finished reading Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton.
The book follows the lives of two women decades apart – Elisa and Marisol. Elise has grown up in the 1950s version of Cuba when Batista fell and Fidel rises to power. In the midst of her privileged upbringing she meets Pablo, a revolutionary fighting against everything her father has supported. Elisa is torn between her family and the man she loves, and when her family flees Cuba in order to escape the prosecution of Fidel’s rise to power, she has to leave all that she loves behind. Making a new life for herself in Miami – she marries, she moves on, she has children – and those children have children and enter onto the scene Marisol. Marisol is living her grandmother’s life decades away after Fidel has died. And her grandmother has passed. Her grandmother’s wish is for Marisol to return to Cuba and spread her ashes in the land that she loved. But travel to Cuba is precarious and when Marisol finds herself on native soil, she learns the truth about her grandmother’s life in Cuba and the battles there are still to fight there.
Next Year in Havana runs parallel stories between a grandmother and granddaughter that heighten the understanding of genuine love. The novel is part romance, part love story, part political lecture, and part redemption. The life Marisol chases in an attempted to learn more about her grandmother Elisa past takes the reader (and Marisol) on a journey through the history of Cuba and its fate for the future.
I learned a lot in the book about not only the extraordinary lives of the characters, but also about Cuba and its deep roots and shallow government. The juxtaposition of the United States against the turmoil backdrop of Cuba creates a powerful lesson in what it means to have freedom not only on paper, but in real life. As Marisol learns and articulates in the novel, “The United States isn’t perfect; there’s injustice everywhere I turn. But there’s also a mechanism that protects its citizens – the right to question when something is wrong, to speak out, to protest, to be heard. It doesn’t always work, sometimes the system fails those it was designed to protect, but at least that opportunity – the hope of it – exists” (Cleeton 305).