I’ve never read any of Chanel Cleeton’s other work, but apparently she often incorporates her own experiences growing up Cuban-American. I just love when authors do that, as it gives their stories so much more of a personal touch and the weight of an author who knows what their talking about.
“Next Year in Havana” follows Marisol Ferrera and her grandmother, Elisa Perez. The book switches back and forth between the 2017 perspective of Marisol when Cuban-American relations are opening up and the 1958 perspective of Elisa when the Cuban revolution was underway and how her wealthy family became exiled under the new regime of Fidel Castro.
Elisa Perez lives in a comfortable bubble surrounded by fancy parties and imported dresses as she and her three sisters are on the society pages of magazines and her father is a powerful sugar baron. Her life, along with her sisters’ lives, is quietly refined and planned out in order: courtship, marriage, kids.
“We are useless birds in a gilded cage,” Elisa says.
Then, while sneaking out to go to a party with her sisters, Elisa meets Pablo, a man steeped in danger who happens to be working for Castro. She finds herself looking at her country in all new ways while also trying to maintain her place in her close-knit family.
Marisol Ferrera finds herself stuck between her grandmother’s romantic stories of Cuba and the harsh reality that awaits her when she arrives in the country under a journalist’s visa. While in Cuba, Marisol finds family secrets and tries to uncover them before the regime can step in and arrest her. She has the unsettling feeling that the government is watching her every move, not just because she is an American, but because they know who her grandmother is and the weight that her name carries.
The parallel chapters of Marisol and Elisa worked almost perfectly, especially in the chapters where Marisol doesn’t know what to do and the next chapter shows her grandmother in the same position 60 years earlier. Not only that, but the development of each character seemed realistic but special despite all the similarities.
Both women start off not understanding Cuban politics for their own reasons; Marisol being raised in America and Elisa being a high society woman. But soon enough they are both forced to look at the country they love so much and make a decision on how they want to act and how that will cost the people around them.
Even though so much of the story deals with their family drama and secrets, the way that Cleeton talks about politics within the book is seamless and never seems out of place. Cleeton brings up many different points of view on Cuban politics and weaves them into the story with historical facts and statistics. I found the book to be captivating and I feel like I actually understand so much more about Cuban politics, and I believe Cleeton did this so the reader would compare the Cuban politics with the United States policies, picking out similarities and differences.
I’d recommend this to anyone who likes period pieces, romance, politics or family dramas.