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Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton – 352 pages

Book Blurb:

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 Review: 5 stars

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Next Year In Havana brings alive the beauty of Cuba with a wonderfully romantic and tragic story of fate and family. No doubt this will be one of my favorites from 2017 and has given me the travel bug to go to Cuba.

The characters in this book are memorable as their flaws were relatable and their thought processes seemed so natural. Both of the protagonists, Marisol in 2017 and Elise in1958 were wrapped up in desperate situations due to the political climates, centuries apart. I really enjoyed seeing how their stories mirrored each other, while their endings were vastly different.

I know that many moons ago I learned about Cuba in history class and of course I remember Fidel Castro becoming Prime Minister in the mid-seventies, but this book propelled me to learn more. Batista, Guevara and Castro all held immense power and this book allowed me to understand what it was like to live under their rule. Cuba’s history is still alive and seems to shadow over current day Havana.

Putting the history aside, this novel is beautifully written and often felt poetically inspired. The story of daughter and granddaughter is rich and full of familial love. There is so much out of control but the few things they can control are ironclad loyalty, love of country and each other and doing what’s best for your family. The story helps you understand why some people chose to stay under the governmental oppression and why some chose to flee, risking immediate expulsion.

There were so many passages that I adored and my book is dog-eared from beginning to end, however this passage was quite meaningful to me. “As exiles, … hope is embedded in the very essence of our soul. ‘Next Year in Havana’. It’s the toast we never stop saying, because the dream of it never comes true.” This reminds me so much of what the Jews say at the end of the Passover Seder, “Next Year In Jerusalem”, as it’s a wish for all Jews to be able to return to the homeland, just as they did after leaving their time of slavery in Egypt.

This author, who actually fled Cuba in the late sixties, has already completed her next novel about Marisol’s outspoken older sister Beatriz. Hopefully on the stands in early January, 2019.  Highly recommend for fans of historical fiction.

Quotes I liked:

That’s the thing about families. They always tell you the truth, even when you prefer the lie.”

-“That’s the thing about desire-it creeps up on you at the most inconvenient times, too often with the most inconvenient people.”

-“That’s the thing about death-even when you think someone is gone, glimpses of them remain those they loved and left behind.”

-“The reality is that there are some words that defy translation; their meaning contains a whole host of things simmering beneath the surface.”

-“When you’re young, life’s punctuation so often seems final when it’s nothing more than a pause.”

-“And so occasionally, we do exceedingly foolish things like sneaking ot of the house in the dead of night because it’s impossible to stand near the flame consuming everything around you and not have some of that fire catch the hem of your skirt, too.”

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