Next Year in Havana
By: Chanel Cleeton
Historical Fiction, Romance
Published: February 6, 2018
From the Cover:
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.
I love it when I finish a book and feel like I have walked away with new perspective, understanding, and knowledge. This has been an unintentional theme of most of the books I have read the month. What is special about this book is how it sheds light on a country and history that seems so hidden and secretive to most of us.
Growing up, I don’t remember learning much about Cuba. I’m pretty sure all I was ever taught in school revolved around the inability to travel to Cuba from the United States and the Communist Revolution led by Fidel Castro. When travel and trade restrictions eased in 2016, people from the United States traveled there and returned with stories of a country seemingly frozen in time.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this book, is that Cleeton describes Cuba in such a way that made me feel like I was right there alongside the characters. I felt like I was experiencing the same fears, dreams, wishes, and exultations as the characters. Their conflicts were heartbreaking and surprising–it is hard to imagine living in a country where you must censor your actions, speech, writing, and emotion out of fear the government may take your life at any moment.
This book covers all the bases. Cleeton gives you history, romance, family, conflict, and sacrifice. What I really appreciated about this book was the back and forth between Elisa and Marisol. Their lives, while nearly 60 years apart, are so similar. They experience similar conflicts and challenges, but their lives take separate paths. I found this to be an interesting and unique comparison, and I appreciate the way Cleeton compared their stories in such a way.
I highly recommend this book, even if you don’t typically go for the historical fiction types. Cleeton does not overwhelm with the histories, instead, she weaves the details of Cuba’s past in with the narratives of the characters. You don’t need to go to Cuba to feel as if you are there; you just need to read this book.
Travel to Cuba? Cuba is not currently on my travel list for a small number of reasons, and that hasn’t changed since reading this book. However, I will say that reading this book has opened my eyes as to what it means to be a responsible tourist. Cleeton makes sure to highlight the ways in which many of the citizens of Cuba rely on tourists to provide for themselves and their families–something that is a direct result of a difficult government. Citizens of Cuba use the Cuban Peso (CUP) whereas tourists exchange their national currency for the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). For reference, 1 CUC = 1 USD (US dollar). Also, 1 CUC = 26.5 CUP currently. That means, it is more profitable for Cuban citizens to earn CUCs via tourists than it is for them to work in sectors for their country such as medicine, law, farming, industry, government, etc.
When it comes to tourism, we need to understand the potential ways in which we are feeding broken systems that act to harm their own citizens. I’m so thankful that Cleeton was able to highlight this in her book and hopefully make people more aware of the impacts they leave behind them.