Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Blog Tour Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

From the Back Cover:

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.

My Thoughts:

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, and it did not disappoint. I savored this novel of family secrets, star-crossed lovers, and self-discovery amidst the chaotic, paranoid culture of revolution. The Cuba portrayed here is an island of contradictions. Beautiful, evocative descriptions of an island paradise and its proud inhabitants interspersed with moments of horror and acts of war. Decadent wealth and privilege coexisting alongside destitute poverty. A generation of genteel young scholars who become radicalized, whose ideals and hopes for the future manifest in acts of terror and guerilla warfare. Families torn apart by conflict and new relationships born in uncertainty. But above all, this is the story of two women who discover in very different ways what it means to be Cuban.

Elisa Perez, a sheltered, naive society girl living under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, longing for something more out of life, falls in love with a revolutionary fighting against everything Elisa's family represents: "the haves" who prosper under a corrupt government while the "have nots" live in poverty, the wealthy who benefit from Batista's patronage, though for many his favor was a double-edged sword. Faced with the truth of this dichotomy in Cuba, and her family's role in it, and the ideals her beloved is fighting for, Elisa is compelled to question her life as she knows it and how she fits into this new idea of Cuba that is coming closer to fruition one bloody battle at a time.

Decades later, her granddaughter Marisol Ferrara, visiting a land still under the Castro dictatorship, comes to realize that Cuba is a contrast of the very best of her grandmother's cherished memories and an ugly and dangerous environment where one wrong word can still land a person in jail...or worse. Where beautiful beach resorts and historic homes recall a bygone time when food wasn't scarce and people were free to follow their dreams. The more she sees of the island and her people, the more she is captivated. And yet the more she wishes she belonged there, the more she realizes she never will. And just when she finds a true romance of her own, a connection that fills her with hope for the future, she is harshly reminded that she is not in America, that the freedom to live one's life as one chooses is rarely granted in Cuba.

My biggest worry when I picked up this book was that Castro and Guevara would be romanticized, but that is not the case. It's heartbreaking in hindsight to watch the Cuban people trade one type of dictator for another, and I had not realized how their revolution mirrored many aspects of the French Revolution. I had not realized the cost of America's presence in Cuba, nor the extent of how the Cuban people suffer under American policy for the sins of their rulers. I think Ms. Cleeton does a fantastic job of never depicting anything in stark black-and-white terms, presenting a well-rounded portrait of this country of contradictions, of why people made the choices they made and continue to make. The pride of the people who stayed and their resentment of those who fled, the risks they take in the name of a free Cuba; the sense of belonging many exiles have never found in their new homes, always longing to return to their homeland, the hatred they feel for the Castro regime, the guilt they feel for having gotten away. I marked over a dozen passages that really spoke to me, that I thought so eloquently expressed.

"Ninety miles. Ninety miles separate Cuba from Key West, the southernmost tip of the United States. Ninety miles that might as well be infinite...How many people on both sides of the water have stared across the ocean, yearning for something they can't have—a family member, a lost love, the country where they were born, the soil where they took their first steps, the air they first breathed?"

For me, this was story was like stepping into a new world, one we don't often get to experience so intimately. And woven into this immersive, eye-opening world is a very emotional story of two young women whose hearts are broken by their love for their homeland and their inability to save it. From quiet moments of poetic contemplation to heart-pounding moments of danger, I loved the way Marisol's journey paralleled her grandmother's and kept me in suspense until the last pages.

Though I didn't think it was entirely perfect—I thought the pacing lagged in a few places, and it probably could have been a few pages shorter; there's a ton of introspection that grows a bit repetitive, though that is where many wonderful observations are found—the beauty of the writing, the emotions this story evoked, and the new eyes it has given me through which to view Cuba transcend those little quibbles. This is the best sort of historical fiction—transporting, entertaining, and emotionally satisfying storytelling that is educational and thought-provoking. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction with romantic elements. I'm thrilled to see a companion novel is forthcoming.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars out of 5

Learn more about Next Year in Havana including downloading the book club guide and more at:

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  1. I really want to read this - glad to see it's good.

  2. Thanks for your review. It's on my TRL and I've been wanting to read Next Year In Havana.
    Carol Luyciano
    Lucky4750 at aol dot com

  3. I always trust your book reviews. Our reading tastes are so similar, perhaps book twins, so I'm happy to see you enjoyed this one. Hoping I'll get a chance to read soon. I requested at my Library a couple of weeks ago. Love the cover!! Thanks for the great review.

    1. You're so sweet, Mary! I like that--book twins!

  4. Oooh thank you for putting this book on my radar! I hadn't heard of it yet!

    1. I think you'll be seeing a lot more of it! Everyone seems to be loving it.


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