Next Year in Havana — Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

TITLE: Next Year in Havana
AUTHOR: Chanel Cleeton
RELEASED: February 6th, 2018; Berkley
GENRE: Historical Fiction/Contemporary
AGE RANGE: Adult

SYNOPSIS: After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

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.

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When I was asked to review Next Year in Havana, it was a tough choice to make. It seemed so far out of my wheelhouse and I’ve had bad luck in the past with celebrity book club picks, so I had no clue what to expect from this! Since I make a habit of not accepting review requests for books I don’t expect to rate favorably, I thought on this one a little, but when I learned that the story was (at least partially) inspired by the author’s own Cuban heritage, I decided to give it a chance—and I am so happy that I did.

To be in exile is to have the things you love most in the world—the air you breathe, the earth you walk upon—taken from you.

nextyearinhavanasm

First, let me gush a little bit about the writing in this book. I typically don’t do any sort of permanent annotations in my books, but when I found myself reaching for my fourth page tab in only three pages, I gave up and grabbed a highlighter. My friends, my copy of this book is now at least 35% pink, because it seemed like almost every single page had quotable phrases or passages that hit me in the chest with how beautiful, poignant, or outright powerful they were.

Havana is like a woman who was grand once and has fallen on hard times, and yet hints of her former brilliance remain, traces of an era since passed, a photograph faded by time and circumstance, its edges crumbling to dust.

Some of my favorite facets to the story were the ways in which Havana herself—and Cuba, by extension—were treated less like a place, and more like a character. As we alternate perspectives between Marisol’s journey and Elisa’s letters, we watch Havana shift and fall into disarray, becoming something largely unrecognizable, and it brings about the most tragic sense of mourning in the ways the region is described.

“Very few can afford the luxury of being political in Cuba.”
“And no one can afford the luxury of not being political in Cuba.”

What surprised me most about Next Year in Havana was how immensely political it is. Don’t let the soft, lovely cover and synopsis fool you into expecting a love story—while there are two paralleling romances woven through, more than anything, this story is a forlorn love song to the freedoms that Cubans have been denied by both Batista and Castro over the decades. Intermingled with the discussions of tragedies, violent oppression, and missed opportunities, there is also a stream of incredibly relevant commentary on racism in Cuba and the US, the United States’ part played in causing the struggles of Cuban citizens, and the sense of dysphoria in the hearts of Cuban exiles and their descendants as they are torn between missing their home and feeling unwelcome there for having left.

We are silk and lace, and beneath them we are steel.

There’s also a beautiful message of feminism and the difficulties that come not only with being a woman in general, but also specifically with being a woman in Cuba during the political unrest. Likewise, there are pieces of dialogue regarding the classism in Cuba—both in Elisa’s and Marisol’s time frames—and the fact that the Cuban citizens in the modern sides of the story largely feel that they have been abandoned to make room for tourists. While many of these scenes are tough to read about, they open up space for us to see the fire in the hearts of the people who want to better their home in any way possible, at any cost.

I’ve become unmoored with my grandmother’s passing; Ana is right—my grandmother was my anchor, and now that she’s gone, I’m adrift.

If I can get a bit more personal for a moment, I also genuinely enjoyed Marisol’s memories of her grandmother, and the authenticity behind her grief at the woman’s passing. Though my upbringing was under very different circumstances, my grandmother had a major role in raising me—like Elisa did with Marisol—for the first twelve years of my life, and continued to play an important role for many years after. It’s been a few years now since she passed, but all of those emotions welled back up inside of me when Marisol grieved her, and it was such a cathartic process that I’m tremendously grateful to Chanel Cleeton for including it.

There’s a novelty to this that catches me off guard. He is both old and new at once, and I can’t ignore the voice inside me—
Pay attention. This is important. He is important.

I’ll try to wrap this up and not just keep gushing, but the last thing I wanted to say is that, even though it feels like the least important aspect of the story by far, I wholeheartedly enjoyed the blossoming romance in Marisol’s chapters, and found myself on the edge of my seat, knowing that there was no easy answer to her falling in love with a Cuban revolutionary like her grandmother before her. I found it poignant and sweet, and it held just the right amount of presence to lighten bits of the story and add emotional weight without ever detracting from what was most important.

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

Ultimately, all I can say is that I recommend this book so very highly, whether you enjoy historical fiction, sweet love stories, political commentary, or any mixture of the above. Not being Cuban myself, I obviously cannot speak to how accurate the portrayals of Cuba or her citizens are, but knowing that Chanel Cleeton’s own family came from Cuba, I can only imagine that she wrote her truth as genuinely as she could. I am tremendously grateful to have this story in my life, and to Berkley for offering it to me, and I will be waiting eagerly for the companion novel, When We Left Cuba.

Thank you so much to Berkley for providing me with this BEAUTIFUL finished copy in exchange for an honest review!

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Buddy read with Courtney!

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Just a 25-year-old trying to juggle motherhood, grad school, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

12 thoughts on “Next Year in Havana — Chanel Cleeton

  1. I looooooved this one. I agree; the writing was stunning, and I loved how much politics played into the story. And I LOVED how vivid the setting felt– it made me want to visit Cuba even more than I already did!

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  2. Wow I am convinced! I usually never put books immediately on my TBR to try not to overload it but being half Cuban, I need to read this! My grandparents were Cuban and my Dad is Cuban so I definitely need to get this in my hands ASAP!

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