“Next Year in Havana” is a compelling story of family, history, romance and revolution. It’s about the beauty of Cuba, the revolution and the heart-wrenching family decisions made in such times. Chanel Cleeton transports us to the street of Havana both before and after the revolution. She has blended the setting, the characters and the story and provides historical perspective. Like Marisol, the main character, Cleeton grew up in Florida on the stories of her family’s exodus from Cuba following the Cuban Revolution.
Elisa Perez is the daughter of a Cuban sugar baron living with her family in Havana in 1958. They are part of Cuba’s high society and live a life of wealth and privilege. She is sheltered from the political unrest and impending victory of Castro but she learns what people on the other side want when she meets and falls in love with Pablo Garcia, a revolutionary. Fast forward to Miami, 2017 where Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing stories of Cuba from Elisa, the grandmother who raised her. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. When she arrives in Havana, Marisol learns the troubling history of her family’s country, along with some dangerous family secrets as she struggles to keep her promise. Marisol stays with her grandmother’s childhood best friend and Marisol hopes that as she explores Havana, the right resting spot will present itself.
Once Marisol arrives in Cuba, the story switches back and forth between her and Elisa. We see Marisol coming face to face with the realities of a country she only knew through the lens of family memories. Living with Elisa’s dear friend, she sees the reality of people’s lives intermingled with the vibrant culture and pride of heritage handed down to her by her family in Florida. She finds love too and finds she has to take risks and make choices to find happiness.
Told in alternating time lines, “Next Year in Havana” is a family saga of love, hope, nostalgia and sacrifice, and what it means to be Cuban, despite where you were born. The rich details of Cuba bring both the past and present to life. The suspense and surprise, and many interconnected threads illustrate what it means to Elisa and Marisol to love an imperfect country and family
Throughout both storylines, Cuba’s history looms large. This is true largely because Marisol and Elisa don’t have the only love stories in the book. Love of Cuba is a theme that runs throughout and the author makes it as compelling to the reader as the other romantic plotlines. “Next Year in Havana” is a beautiful novel, highly recommended and would be a good choice for book groups too.
Luba Sawczyn is the Branch Manager of the Graham Public Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 570-6730.