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Set in Havana, Cuba, the novel tells the intertwining stories of debutante Elisa Perez in 1958 and her granddaughter, Marisol Ferrera, in 2017. After Elisa dies suddenly, Marisol travels to Cuba to fulfill her wish of having her ashes scattered in Havana (a task specifically delegated to her). When Elisa’s childhood friend gives Marisol a box of things Elisa entrusted her with when her family fled Cuba, she uncovers the secrets that were never shared in all of the stories her grandmother told her about Cuba. Through Elisa’s chapters in the story, we receive answers to Marisol’s many questions and learn about how her life was forever changed by the Cuban Revolution. She tells of her love affair with a revolutionary, of the violence and political unrest in Cuba at that time, and of her family’s drastic decision to flee the country after Fidel Castro rose to power. In a way, Marisol’s experiences in Cuba mirrors Elisa’s–we see how her idyllic vision of Cuba is shattered when she learns of the injustice still occuring there, and she embarks on an epic love affair with a modern Cuban revolutionary.
Charming, heartbreaking, and powerful, Next Year in Havana is a testament to the strength of women and the tenacity of family bonds. It has something to offer for a lot of different kinds of readers. It’s a genre-bending novel that has elements of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, and romance. Though the characters and plot are fictional, there are some interesting historical nods to the Cuban Revolution of 1958-59. The non-linear timeline and alternating points of view could be confusing for some people, but Cleeton does a wonderful job with unifying the two stories. If you like history, romance, or just stories about women in general, you’ll likely enjoy Next Year in Havana.
5 out of 5 stars
“I came here searching for my family’s legacy, and now I know what it is. I grew up on their stories, but it was different hearing my grandmother and her sisters recount their own experiences. They spoke of their bravery in a matter-of-fact tone as though it was something they did that anyone would have done in their position. But now I’ve seen a sliver of what they lived up close, the grace with which they bore their suffering, the strength with which they carried our family and our future on their backs. They sacrificed and risked their lives for those they loved, for their country. They were brave when it mattered most.”