Official Synopsis from Goodreads: 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, 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.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: 1958-1959 and 2017 in Havana, Cuba
My Copy Came From: I purchased the Kindle version from Amazon.
*** this post contains affiliate links ***
Review: Slow to start but ultimately excellent, discussion-worthy historical fiction! Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is a book I’ve heard a lot about. It’s one of Reese Witherspoon’s book club selections, and I keep seeing it recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction.
To be Cuban is to be proud—it is both our greatest gift and our biggest curse. We serve no kings, bow no heads, bear our troubles on our backs as though they are nothing at all. There is an art to this, you see. An art to appearing as though everything is effortless, that your world is a gilded one, when the reality is that your knees beneath your silk gown buckle from the weight of it all. We are silk and lace, and beneath them we are steel.
Using a back-and-forth in time structure, we see Cuba during the Cuban Revolution, through the eyes of Elisa, a wealthy young woman who falls in love with a revolutionary named Pablo. We also see a modern day Cuba through the eyes of Elisa’s granddaughter, Marisol, who heads to Havana after her grandmother has passed.
As the book begins, we see Elisa and her family fleeing Cuba for the United States, and though it seems that would immediately have me interested in the story, this one took quite awhile before I was truly interested in the plot and characters. Elisa and Marisol’s stories mirror each other to some extent. When one falls in love, the other falls in love, as one gets further into revolutionary discussions, the other falls deeper into those discussions as well. Most of the time this worked, but sometimes it felt a bit forced, as Elisa’s story takes place over several months, and Marisol’s takes place over several days. So, needless to say, Elisa’s love affair felt more believable than Marisol’s did, simply due to the time that these characters were able to spend with each other. But, mostly, both relationships fall prey to insta-love.
“Not everyone has the luxury of tying their Cuban heritage to a place. For many being Cuban is something they carry with them in their hearts, something they fight to preserve even when all they have are their memories. When they left, they couldn’t take anything with them. No photographs, no official documents, no family heirlooms or mementos. That kind of exile makes you angry.”
“You’re right. Both sides love Cuba, they just do it in different ways. Some love it so much they can’t leave; others love it so much, they cannot stay.”
I think this would be an interesting discussion book, as there are many debates between the characters in this book. The characters discuss issues between the wealthy and the poor, the exiled Cubans and the ones who stayed, violent rebellion vs nonviolent rebellion, the history of the United States’ dealings with Cuba, and the ideals of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Fulgencio Batista, to name a few. At times some of these discussions in the book felt like mini-lectures, but I still found these topics fascinating.
“You never know what’s to come. That’s the beauty of life. If everything happened the way we wished, the way we planned, we’d miss out on the best parts, the unexpected pleasures.” He shrugs, gesturing around him. “We all had a vision; we had a plan. Fate, God, Fidel, they all laughed at that plan. I thought I was on one path, and it turned out to be something else entirely. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad, though.”
Because of the nature of all the dramatics and characters within this read, I think this would make an excellent television series! I’d love to see the stories within given time to breathe onscreen, and there are several characters that have interesting plotlines (the mysteriousness of Beatriz, Cristina’s tragic story, and Alejandro’s revolutionary leanings) that would be too glossed over if this were just to be a movie. There’s also a companion read, When We Left Cuba that looks like it focuses on Beatriz. I’m looking forward to reading this!
Bottom Line: Excellent historical fiction! Would make a great book club choice.
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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton”
I was immediately more drawn to your description of the older setting. I guess I don’t have a lot of interest in that all-too-familiar plot of someone in a present setting finding an older relative’s diary and travelling as a result, or a relative they hardly knew dying and travelling as a result.
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Yeah, a lot of the back-and-forth historical fiction books are very similar in their set up! They’ve got to make that link to the past plausible otherwise the back-and-forth doesn’t work. I liked both of the time periods here – politically there was so much happening in the older time period, and the more recent one dealt with the fallout of the revolution and how life was for those who stayed in Cuba vs those who left. It was quite interesting!
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Cuba always has something going on, so it was a good choice for a setting. Did the author talk about how some aspects of Cuba are really stuck in the 1950s? Their cars! They’re still driving cars with fishtails!
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Yes! She did talk about that! How the revolution really halted any modernization because Cuba was so isolated. It was quite interesting to read the modern sections – to see the historical sections of Havana and then to read about other parts of the city that weren’t maintained.
I think another part of the cars is that they don’t have snow, thus they have no road salt. Road salt eats cars, and so if you live in a non-snowy place, your car tends to last WAY longer.
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Yeah, for sure! I don’t live in an area that gets snow, but when I visit those areas I’m always so amazed at how dirty/damaged the cars look and how much gravel is on the roads – especially because we think of snow as being so clean!
But Havana would get the salt in the air from the proximity to the ocean, so they’d end up with some rust.