Reviewed by Kini
Favorite Quote: To be Cuban is to be proud— it is both our greatest gift and our biggest curse. We serve no kings, bow no heads, bear our troubles on our backs as though they are nothing at all. There is an art to this, you see. An art to appearing as though everything is effortless, that your world is a gilded one, when the reality is that your knees beneath your silk gown buckle from the weight of it all. We are silk and lace, and beneath them we are steel.
The above quote is on one of the first pages in the book and I feel like it really tells a lot about this book. I have been waiting for this book since I first saw Cleeton announce it. It is definitely a departure from her previous books, which are firmly romance. On Broken Wings was on of my favorite reads for 2017 and was an angsty, emotional and sexy story. Next Year In Havana is a beautiful and emotional love story. Love of family, love of country, romantic love all make appearances here and I loved every moment of it.
It’s told from the past by Elisa and modern-day by Marisol, Elisa’s granddaughter. Elisa is 19 and it’s 1956 right in the middle of the Cuban revolution. Her family is a wealthy, influential family in Havana. She is a product of privilege and until this point has not been too impacted by the upheaval occurring around her. Her family has to decide if and when they will leave Cuba. There is a lot of history about the Cuban revolution and I found it fascinating. But the most gut-wrenching part was the belief that exile would be temporary.
Marisol in modern-day has traveled to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes. She’s grown up hearing stories of Cuba, as she was mostly raised by her grandmother. Marisol stays with her grandmother’s best friend, Ana and her family. Ana gives Marisol a box that belonged to her grandmother and it is filled with glimpses into Elisa’s past. Marisol works through these pieces and learns more about her grandmother’s life and secrets. Additionally Marisol has to work through where and how she fits in to modern Cuba.
I am Cuban, and yet, I am not. I don’t know where I fit here, in the land of my grandparents, attempting to recreate a Cuba that no longer exists in reality.
Of course there is love in this book. Elisa and Marisol both find love in Cuba. Elisa falls in love with a revolutionary. Marisol finds love as well. She’s only in Cuba for a week so it is kind of a forced proximity situation. The love comes on fast, but I enjoyed Luis and Marisol together.
“I thought you were laughing at me,” I confess. “I thought you were charming,” he says. “And yes, you made me laugh, but not at you. And then I drove you through Havana, took you to your family’s house and saw the way you looked at it, heard the way you spoke of your family, of what being Cuban meant to you, and I knew.” “Knew what?” “That you were here for me.”
It would be a disservice to not mention to the love of Cuba in this book. While I was reading I was thinking that there are really three love stories in this book, Elisa’s, Marisol and Luis, and the love of Cuba. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of dialogue spent on the issues of Cubans then and now. But through Elisa’s eyes we see the Cuba she loved. Through Marisol’s eyes we see the Cuba she grew up knowing and then for herself. Cleeton herself is a Cuban-American and has said this books was influenced by her own life. It took me a good portion of the book to really get where the “Next Year in Havana” came from, but when it did, it really brought all the pieces together for me. I can only speak for myself when I say, I grew up knowing minimal things about Cuba. And I certainly never really considered how hard is for a person to leave their home not knowing when or if they may ever be able to return. There were also some parallels and mention to the current political situation of the United States. I think it would be hard to write a book that covers historical and current political situations and not mention it. One quote I pulled out really resonated.
“Very few can afford the luxury of being political in Cuba.” “And no one can afford the luxury of not being political in Cuba,” he counters.
Cleeton wove together a story of past and present that resulted in a beautiful and moving story. There is love and loss, a little bit of mystery/intrigue and some surprises as well as laughs. Marisol and Elisa have many parallels in their lives, but it never felt heavy-handed to me. This is definitely a women’s fiction book, but it had enough romantic elements to satisfy me. Marisol’s journey of self discovery was priority number one, but love was strong too. If you’ve watched and enjoyed the Netflix show One Day at a Time, I recommend this book. Or if you’ve read or plan to read this book, I recommend you watch ODAAT, specifically season two, episode four. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to Beatriz’s, Elisa’s sister, book.