A Book Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

 

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. (Amazon)

My Review

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve tried to plan educational trips to Cuba a couple of times, but in both instances my plans did not come to fruition.  I shall persevere!  In the meanwhile, Cuba remains a country about which I have read a lot, researched and spoken to many about.  In terms of Next Year in Havana, I’m not trying to grade it on a technical scale.  My personal feelings about this book are that the story is heart-felt and that the author does a good job representing the island and the many contradictions and controversies surrounding it.  I’ve also read quite a few reviews written by persons of Cuban descent and the general consensus seems to be that this tale well-represents their feelings about their forbearers’ land.

Stories about Cuba, especially those that cover the 1959 Castro revolution, are very often passionate, overly-politicised and aggressive towards contradicting opinion.  I will admit, therefore, that I was a bit weary to begin reading this book.  Thankfully, my apprehensions were unfounded.  This story isn’t trying to convert readers to one side or another.  It is the tale about two women living in different times who are both affected by love, politics and idealism.

This book discusses and dissects many of the stereotypes people carry about Cuba and its politics.  Multiple perspectives are revealed, although perhaps a couple more could have been included to give an even fuller picture.  I found it intriguing how different people could desperately love their country in such different ways.  The way in which Cubans who have never even seen the island, identify with its culture and make it a focal point of their identity, is explained.  This even inspired me to make some minor adjustments to my Cuban History teaching modules.   History, after all, is not just about facts, it is also about perspectives.

While this book does not substitute for careful research or more fact-based historical reading, I think the author covers several key events very well and it’s a good intro to the major issues.  I would recommend it to my students after we have covered the subject in the classroom.

In terms of story structure, the dual timeline is very effective and the pacing remains quick enough to keep the reader’s attention, but slow enough that one can become immersed in the story.  My experience with this book was made all the better by obtaining the audio version.  The narrators (Kyla Garcia and Frankie Maria Corzo) both did excellent jobs. I found the production to be excellent.

I give this story 5/5 stars.

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I’m a Latin American Studies teacher, teaching Latin American History and Politics and Basic Spanish. I love reading, writing, teaching and travelling. 

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