Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

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Title: Next Year in Havana
Author: Chanel Cleeton
Genre: Mystery, Family Saga, Historical Fiction, Romance
Topics: Cuba, Cuban Revolution/History
Publisher: Berkley Books
Publishing Year: 2018
Pages: 383
Format Read: Paperback
My Rating: 5/5
 

This novel was exactly what I was looking for to launch my summer reading. After reading several shorter and/or fast paced books I wanted something a little slower, but that didn’t drag. I wanted something luxurious with amazing writing to revel in but with heart and substance too. Next Year in Havana delivers on all of this and more. It is a joy to read and the only consolation after finishing is that there will be another book following another indomitable Perez sister coming out soon!

Summary: 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...

The story follows a dual-timeline narrative: one in 1957 following Elisa Perez, the wealthy daughter of a sugar Baron who falls in love with a revolutionary just as the Cuban Revolution engulfs the island, and the second following her granddaughter Marisol, a Cuban-American woman who is traveling to Cuba for the first time after Castro’s death to fulfill her grandmother’s last wish of having her ashes laid to rest in Cuba. 

The back and forth between the two women’s parallel stories allows for an interesting exploration of Cuban history comparing what has changed and what has not since 1957. Cuban politics is a fraught topic to say the least on which people tend to hold strong ideas. Cleeton manages to navigate these complex waters through her dual timelines which allow for a then-and-now perspective and through the romantic elements in the story which not only to create exquisite tension but also allow the audience to follow different points of view on Cuban history

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Cleeton’s astute eye for the subtle is evident as she weaves the Island’s history into the narrative and avoids simplifying what remains a sensitive and controversial topic but she also sets up the political and social tensions in a way that is accessible to a reader who is unfamiliar with Cuba history. Her triumph in managing this balance with heart and poise is a true testament to Cleeton’s talent as a writer. 

Apart from her masterfully crafted historical context, Cleeton’s characters (particularly the two protagonists but the secondary characters as well) are all deeply layered and complex. Each woman and the decisions that they make are very much a product of their surroundings and times and as such they do not always understand each other. This becomes particularly poignant when Marisol uncovers information about her Grandmother, that shocks her and makes her question what she really know about the woman she thought she knew so well. Marisol herself makes mistakes as she searches for her grandmother’s history which make her question her own history as a Cuban-American descendant of Cuban migrants. Through Marisol’s conflicts, the book goes into depth dissecting the Cuban identity, what it means to be Cuban-American and be caught in between Cuba-American relations.

Ultimately, this is a not-to-be-missed novel with gorgeous writing, complex characters, and passionate romance but the heart of the story is Cuba itself: its people, its history, its pain and its beauty too. Cleeton’s love of her heritage is evident in every page she writes and it is impossible to read this book without picturing yourself there, walking on the Malecón, enjoying Cuban food and the Caribbean sea, this book is a real treat. I cannot recommend it enough!

Read if you like:

  • Gorgeous, detailed sense of place and time

  • Family secrets and history

  • A dash of romance