Book Review

Next Year In Havana


No doubt about it; I loved Next Year In Havana.  Cuba has always fascinated me – so close and yet so far.  If I had a bucket list, visiting Cuba would be on it.  That said, despite the recent loosening of travel restrictions, it still isn’t an easy place to visit.

This is one of the themes of this book – feeling the restrictions of life as a Cuban and dreaming that it will change – albeit for very different reasons.  The two voices of the book are the Elisa of 1959, living in Cuba with her wealthy family in the lead-up to the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, and Marisol, her journalist granddaughter, who grew up in Florida after her grandparents fled Cuba and who now returns as a visitor to spread her grandmother’s ashes there.

The plot switches between past and present, between Elisa and Marisol.  In the smoothest of transitions, we learn about Elisa’s life and loves, all the while Marisol, who was raised on her family’s stories of Cuba, is living them for herself.  I came to love both women.  I came to love their revolutionaries.  I came to rush into each new chapter to find out what would happen.

This book is at the same time a war story, a love story, and a family saga.  It is also an education into the history of Cuba, with keen insight into her people, both sixty years ago and now.  From what I’ve read, Chanel Cleeton grew up with the same stories as her Marisol.  Each one drew me in.  Yes, there were times when the plight of Cubans, first under Batista, then under the Castros, was vaguely repetitive and might have been shortened.  By the end of the book, though, I felt deeply for the cause in part because of the passion of these characters.

A final word.  The narrator of the audiobook was incredibly good, no doubt adding to the pleasure of experiencing this book.  If you can listen, do.  If not, read this one in print.  Either way, it’s worth it.

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