Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Review: Next Year in Havana - Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana
by Chanel Cleeton
February 6, 2018
Women’s Fiction/Historical Fiction

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.

Learn more about Next Year in Havana including downloading the book club guide and more at:
Add Beatriz Perez’s story WHEN WE LEFT CUBA on Goodreads

5 Stars

Oh my, it is impossible to give this book the proper review it deserves. I can't summarize it in a way that shows you just how wonderful this book was to read, you just have to read it yourself. Next Year in Havana is a beautiful, heart wrenching tale that brings Cuba and its inhabitants, and exiles, to life. It's one of the best Historical Fictions I have read in a very long time, with incredible, descriptive writing and a story that pulled so much emotion from me. I found myself entranced, enjoying the opulence of upper-class life with Elisa Perez as Chanel Cleeton took us back in time to 1959 and the magical, but increasingly dangerous streets of Havana. Told from the dual perspectives of Elisa in the past and her great-granddaughter, Marisol, in the present, readers get to visit the city frozen in time. It's about love, passion, history, freedom, and patriotism.

"I can't do this. I can't leave. I can't stay."

Elisa and Marisol's time in Cuba mirror one anothers, with Marisol learning far more about the woman she called grandmother while on the streets she once roamed. I really appreciated how similar Elisa and Marisol were, yet their differences were distinct and profound when you consider the locations and politics that each grew up in. They each are strong, stubborn women who yearn for knowledge and adventure that their families do not understand. Marisol's knowledge of Cuba is from romantic stories of the past, an impossible dream that reality could never live up to, and so similar to the viewpoint that many young Americans still have. Her view is changed as she sees Cuba as it is today, crumbling, but still sparkling and strong. Elisa's view is from the viewpoint of a woman on the cusp of true adulthood, her place in the world not meant for politics and social injustice, but her love of a passionate, educated man challenges that.

"These are the stories of my childhood come to life, the spirit of my grandmother, my family, our legacy, everywhere i turn."

Chanel Cleeton details the pre-revolution change and present day regime with extensive detail, bringing emotion and personal feelings into a story we only know from the pages of history books. Both secondary male characters, Pablo and Luis, open up the main character's eyes, their quiet insubordination and challenge of the power exerted on them shaking up the comfort each has had in their unenlightened lives. There is so much grace in how Elisa and Marisol accept the difficulties presented to them, with Elisa embracing the struggles of exile and Marisol adopting the same courage many Cubans do with seeking and sharing the realities and truths of life in Cuba. Then there's the many secondary characters, beginning with Ana and growing increasingly more interesting with each interaction with the people of Elisa's past, like Magda, and the new people in Marisol's present, like Luis, Cristina, and even her great-aunt Beatriz. Each shares their view on Cuba as it was and is today, their stories shaping Marisol and bringing her even closer to her grandmother and to the country that feels like home.

"It's raucous and beautiful, and more than anything, I want to belong here, want this city to become a part of me."

Next Year in Havana was such a powerful story for me, with Cuba coming to life with Chanel Cleeton's imagery and the detail given to the injustices of life there so evocative. The novel came across as very authentic, with two equally important plots, the romance of the characters and the romance between the country and its people. I was so overcome with emotion, I cried at times that weren't truly sad moments in the story, but rather tugged at my heart as I pictured Cuba and its resilient people. It took this book from a historical romance to a literary masterpiece, the pages filled with culture and people devoted to a country that has let it down.

“ ‘Next Year in Havana. It’s the toast we never stop saying, because the dream of it never comes true.’ ”

Next Year in Havana is a romantic, hopeful story with well-developed characters whose adventures parallel one another in past and present Cuba. I really fell in love with this novel and have so much compassion for the characters. It's a thoughtful novel, poignant and very relevant to the times. Historical Fiction fans will fall in love with Next Year in Havana and Chanel Cleeton's lyrical prose. You'll find yourself wandering the streets of Havana, admiring the vintage cars and the bright colors, and you won't regret a moment spent living in this book. If you're a sentimental girl like me, grab a pack of tissues for when you start your journey.

Author Information:

Originally from Florida, Chanel Cleeton grew up on stories of her family's exodus from Cuba following the events of the Cuban Revolution. Her passion for politics and history continued during her years spent studying in England where she earned a bachelor's degree in International Relations from Richmond, The American International University in London and a master's degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics & Political Science. Chanel also received her Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law. She loves to travel and has lived in the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia.

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