“A beautiful novel that's full of forbidden passions, family secrets and a lot of courage and sacrifice.”—Reese Witherspoon
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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Read an Excerpt
How long will we be gone?" my sister Maria asks.
"Awhile," I answer.
"Two months? Six months? A year? Two?"
"Quiet." I nudge her forward, my gaze darting around the departure area of Rancho-Boyeros Airport to see if anyone has overheard her question.
We stand in a row, the famous-or infamous, depending on who you ask-Perez sisters. Isabel leads the way, the eldest of the group. She doesn't speak, her gaze trained on her fianc, Alberto. His face is pale as he watches us, as we march out of the city we once brought to its knees.
Beatriz is next. When she walks, the hem of her finest dress swinging against her calves, the pale blue fabric adorned with lace, it's as though the entire airport holds its collective breath. She's the beauty in the family and she knows it.
I trail behind her, the knees beneath my skirts quivering, each step a weighty effort.
And then there's Maria, the last of the sugar queens.
At thirteen, Maria's too young to understand the need to keep her voice low, is able to disregard the soldiers standing in green uniforms, guns slung over their shoulders and perched in their eager hands. She knows the danger those uniforms bring, but not as well as the rest of us do. We haven't been able to remove the grief that has swept our family in its unrelenting curl, but we've done our best to shield her from the barbarity we've endured. She hasn't heard the cries of the prisoners held in cages like animals in La Caba–a, the prison now run by that Argentine monster. She hasn't watched Cuban blood spill on the ground.
But our father has.
He turns and silences her with a look, one he rarely employs yet is supremely effective. For most of our lives, he's left the care of his daughters to our mother and our nanny, Magda, too busy running his sugar company and playing politics. But these are extraordinary times, the stakes higher than any we've ever faced. There is nothing Fidel would love more than to make an example of Emilio Perez and his family-the quintessential image of everything his revolution seeks to destroy. We're not the wealthiest family in Cuba, or the most powerful one, but the close relationship between my father and the former president is impossible to ignore. Even the careless words of a thirteen-year-old girl can prove deadly in this climate.
Maria falls silent.
Our mother walks beside our father, her head held high. She insisted we wear our finest dresses today, hats and gloves, brushed our hair until it gleamed. It wouldn't do for her daughters to look anything but their best, even in exile.
Defiant in defeat.
We might not have fought in the mountains, haven't held weapons in our glove-covered hands, but there is a battle in all of us. One Fidel has ignited like a flame that will never be extinguished. And so we walk toward the gate in our favorite dresses, Cuban pride and pragmatism on full display. It's our way of taking the gowns with us, even if they're missing the jewels that normally adorn them. What remains of our jewelry is buried in the backyard of our home.
For when we return.
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.
We try to preserve the fiction that this is merely a vacation, a short trip abroad, but the gazes following us around the airport know better-
Beatriz's fingers wrap around mine for one blissful moment. Those olive green-clad sentries watch our every move. There's something reassuring in her fear, in that crack in the facade. I don't let go.
The world as we know it has died, and I do not recognize the one that has taken its place.
A sense of hopelessness overpowers the departure area. You see it in the eyes of the men and women waiting to board the plane, in the tired set of their shoulders, the shock etched across their faces, their possessions clutched in their hands. It's present in the somber children, their laughter extinguished by the miasma that has overtaken all of us.
This used to be a happy place. We would welcome our father when he returned from a business trip, sat in these same seats three years earlier, full of excitement to travel to New York on vacation.
We take our seats, huddling together, Beatriz on one side of me, Maria on the other. Isabel sits apart from us, her pain a mantle around her shoulders. There are different degrees of loss here, the weight of what we leave behind inescapable.
My parents sit with their fingers intertwined, one of the rare displays of physical affection I've ever seen them partake in, worry in their eyes, grief in their hearts.
How long will we be gone? When will we return? Which version of Cuba will greet us when we do?
We've been here for hours now, the seconds creeping by with interminable slowness. My dress itches, a thin line of sweat running down my neck. Nausea rolls around in my stomach, an acrid taste in my mouth.
"I'm going to be sick," I murmur to Beatriz.
She squeezes my fingers. "No, you're not. We're almost there."
I beat the nausea back, staring down at the ground in front of me. The weight of the stares is pointed and sharp, and at the same time, it's as if we exist in a vacuum. The sound has been sucked from the room save for the occasional rustle of clothing, the stray sob. We exist in a state of purgatory, waiting, waiting-
"Now boarding . . ."
My father rises from his seat on creaky limbs; he's aged years in the nearly two months since President Batista fled the country, since the winds of revolution drifted from the Sierra Maestra to our corner of the island. Emilio Perez was once revered as one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Cuba; now there's little to distinguish my father from the man sitting across the aisle, from the gentleman lining up at the gate. We're all citizens of no country now, all orphans of circumstance.
I reach out and take Maria's hand with my spare one.
She's silent, as though reality has finally sunk in. We all are.
We walk in a line, somber and reticent, making our way onto the tarmac. There's no breeze in the air today, the heat overpowering as we shuffle forward, the sun beating down on our backs, the plane looming in front of us.
I can't do this. I can't leave. I can't stay.
Beatriz pulls me forward, a line of Perez girls, and I continue on.
We board the plane in an awkward shuffle, the silence cracking and splintering as hushed voices give way to louder ones, a cacophony of tears filling the cabin. Wails. Now that we've escaped the departure area, the veneer of civility is stripped away to something unvarnished and raw-
I take a seat next to the window, peering out the tiny glass, hoping for a better view than that of the airport terminal, hoping . . .
We roll back from the gate with a jolt and lurch, silence descending in the cabin. In a flash, it's New Year's Eve again and I'm standing in the ballroom of my parents' friends' house, a glass of champagne in one hand. I'm laughing, my heart so full. There's fear lingering in the background, both fear and uncertainty, but there's also a sense of hope.
In minutes, my entire world changed.
President Batista has fled the country! Long live a free Cuba!
Is this freedom?
We're gaining speed now, hurtling down the runway. My body heaves with the movement, and I lose the battle, grabbing the bag in the seat pocket in front of me, emptying the contents of my stomach.
Beatriz strokes my back as I hunch over, as the wheels leave the ground, as we soar into the sky. The nausea hits me again and again, an ignominious parting gift, and when I finally look up, a startling shock of blue and green greets me, an artist's palette beneath me.
When Christopher Columbus arrived in Cuba, he described it as the most beautiful land human eyes had ever seen. And it is. But there's more beyond the sea, the mountains, the clear sky. There's so much more that we leave behind us.
How long will we be gone?
A year? Two?
When I was younger, I begged my grandmother to tell me about Cuba. It was a mythical island, contained in my heart, entirely drawn from the version of Cuba she created in exile in Miami and the stories she shared with me. I was caught between two lands-two iterations of myself-the one I inhabited in my body and the one I lived in my dreams.
We'd sit in the living room of my grandparents' sprawling house in Coral Gables, and she'd show me old photos that had been smuggled out of the country by intrepid family members, weaving tales about her life in Havana, the adventures of her siblings, painting a portrait of a land that existed in my imagination. Her stories smelled of gardenias and jasmine, tasted of plantains and mamey, and always, the sound of her old record player. Each time she'd finish her tale she'd smile and promise I would see it myself one day, that we'd return in grand style, reopening her family's seaside estate in Varadero and the elegant home that took up nearly the entire block of a tree-lined street in Havana.
When Fidel dies, we'll return. You'll see.
And finally, after nearly sixty years of keeping Cubans in suspense, of false alarms and hoaxes, he did die, outlasting my grandmother by mere months. The night he died, my family opened a bottle of champagne my great-grandfather had bought nearly sixty years ago for such an occasion, toasting Castro's demise in our inimitable fashion. The champagne, sadly, like Fidel himself, was past its prime, but we partied on Calle Ocho in Miami until the sun rose, and still-
Still we remain.
His death did not erase nearly sixty years of exile, or ensure a future of freedom. Instead I'm smuggling my grandmother's ashes inside my suitcase, concealed as jars in my makeup case, honoring her last request to me while we pray, hope, wait for things to change.
When I die, take me back to Cuba. Spread my ashes over the land I love. You'll know where.
And now sitting on the plane somewhere between Mexico City and Havana, armed with a notebook filled with scribbled street names and places to visit, a guidebook I purchased off the Internet, I have no clue where to lay her to rest.
They read my grandmother's will six months ago, thirty family members seated in a conference room in our attorney's office on Brickell. Her sisters were there-Beatriz and Maria. Isabel passed away the year before. Their children came with their spouses and their children, the next generations paying their respects. Then there was my father-her only child-my two sisters, and me.
The main parts of her will were fairly straightforward, no major surprises to be expected. My grandfather had died over two decades earlier and turned the family sugar business over to my father to run. There was the house in Palm Beach, which went to my sister Daniela. The farm in Wellington and the horses were left to my sister Lucia, the middle child. And I ended up with the house in Coral Gables, the site of so many imaginary trips to Cuba.
There were monetary bequests, and artwork, lists upon lists of items read by the attorney in a matter-of-fact tone, his announcements met with the occasional tear or exclamation of gratitude. And then there was her final wish-
Grandparents aren't supposed to play favorites, but my grandmother never played by anyone else's rules. Maybe it was the fact that I came into the world two months before my mother caught my father in bed with a rubber heiress. Lucia and Daniela had years of family unity before the Great Divorce, and after that, they had a bond with my mother I never quite achieved. My early years were logged between strategy sessions at the lawyers' offices, shuttled back and forth between homes, until finally my mother washed her hands of it all and went back to Spain, leaving me under the care of my grandmother. So perhaps because I was the daughter she never had, yet raised as her own, it made sense that she charged me with this-
No one in the family questioned it.
From her sisters, I received a list of addresses-including the Perez estate in Havana and the beach house no one had seen in over fifty years. They put me in contact with Ana Rodriguez, my grandmother's childhood best friend. Despite the passage of time, she'd been gracious enough to offer to host me for the week I'd be in Cuba. Perhaps she could shed some light on my grandmother's final resting place.
You always wanted to see Cuba, and it's my greatest regret that we were unable to do so in my lifetime. I am consoled, at least, by the image of you strolling along the Malec—n, the spray of salt water on your face. I imagine you kneeling in the pews of the Cathedral of Havana, sitting at a table at the Tropicana. Did I ever tell you about the night we snuck out and went to the club?
I always dreamed Fidel would die before me, that I would return home. But now my dream is a different one. I am an old woman, and I have come to accept that I will never see Cuba again. But you will.
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. They exist on the other side of a wall-there and not-unaltered by time and circumstance, preserved in a perfect memory in a land of dreams.
My Cuba is gone, the Cuba I gave to you over the years swept away by the winds of revolution. It's time for you to discover your own Cuba.
Reading Group Guide
Readers Guide for Next Year in Havana
1. The novel alternates between Elisa Perez’s life in Cuba in 1958 and 1959 and her granddaughter Marisol Ferrera’s trip to Cuba in 2017. Which woman did you identify with more? What parallels can you see between their personalities and their lives? What differences?
2. The first chapter ends with Elisa wondering how long her family will be away from Cuba. The final chapter ends over a decade later with her posing the same question. How are the themes of hope and exile illustrated in the book? How does the weight of exile affect the Perez family?
3. When Marisol arrives in Cuba she struggles with identifying as Cuban because she grew up in the United States and because she has never set foot on Cuban soil. How much does a physical place define one’s identity? How does Marisol’s trip alter her views about being Cuban and change her perception of herself? How do Marisol and her family attempt to keep their heritage alive in exile? Are there stories and rituals handed down through the generations in your family?
4. Like her grandmother, Marisol falls in love with a man who has revolutionary political leanings. What similarities can you see between Pablo's and Luis’s dreams for Cuba? What differences are there in their worldview? How do they go about achieving their dreams for a better Cuba?
5. Sacrifice is a major theme that runs throughout the novel. How do the characters make sacrifices for one another, and what are some examples of them risking their safety and security for their loved ones? How do you think you would have acted in similar situations?
6. Family plays an important role in the novel, and each of the characters face their own struggles in their attempts to live up to their family’s expectations. What are some examples of this? Did you identify with one character’s point of view more? Are there certain expectations in your own family? Do you feel the need to live up to them? How have they shaped your life decisions?
7. Elisa’s final wish is to have her ashes scattered over Cuban soil. Do you agree with her decision? Would you have wanted your ashes spread in Cuba or would you have preferred to be buried on American soil? Do you think Marisol picked the best place to spread Elisa’s ashes? Where else would you have considered scattering them? Have you scattered the ashes of a loved one? What was the experience like?
8. What initially attracts Elisa to Pablo? Do you believe they would have been able to overcome the differences between them if they weren’t caught in the midst of the Cuban Revolution? Or was their love fueled by the urgency of the times?
9. Elisa chooses to save her letters from Pablo and her memories of their romance by burying them in a box in the backyard. If you had a box in which to bury your most precious possessions, what would you choose to keep safe?
10. What parallels do you see between life in modern Cuba and life in pre-revolutionary Cuba? What differences?
11. Pablo tells Elisa that everything is political. Do you agree with him?
12. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, Marisol and Luis share many similarities that bring them together as a couple. What are some examples of this? Why do you think they get along so well? Do you think they are a good influence on each other?
13. Pablo believes that the best way to change his country is from within. Others like Elisa’s family choose to leave Cuba because they can no longer support the regime. Which approach do you identify with? What are the differences between the Cubans who remained in Cuba and those who live in exile? What are the similarities?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book was a lovely read -it shed light on Cuba and cuban history. Made me realize how little I know the country and the events of its history. I look forward to her next book.
Truly amazing book made me feel like I was in Cuba and had experienced the revolution I could feel the love the storytelling really immersed me in the story loved it
Wonderful story learned so much about what happened with Battista & Castro
Loved this story. Great story to read following my trip to Havanna.
To be a Cuban-American woman is a difficult thing to explain. It means to long for an island you’ve never seen, despise a dictator you’ve never met, mourn for the loss of family members and possessions others could not take with them, and feel tremendous pressure to cook perfectly, be a beautiful wife, and succeed greater in your career than the generations before you who sacrificed and lost more than they’re ever willing to divulge. Marisol Ferrera is such a woman, a writer whose cherished Cuban immigrant grandmother has just past and left it to her to go to Cuba and find the perfect final resting place. But when she arrives, she finds letters her grandmother never shared, from a man the young Elisa loved long before Marisol’s grandfather, in the last days of the Cuban revolution that placed Fidel Castro in power. Elisa is a society girl of nineteen who knows nothing of revolution, other than her brother has been outcast from the family for speaking out against Batista’s injustices. But at a party, she meets a man named Pablo, filled with passion to right the social exploitations of his country’s leadership, and bring in a new way of living, of ending the suffering for the poor of whom Elisa knows nothing. While Pablo awoke Elisa’s mind to the sufferings of the Cuban people, so does the grandson of Elisa’s best childhood friend who remained in Cuba, a handsome university professor named Luis. He takes Marisol on a tour of the island for her magazine article, but he also tells her the truths that the government wishes no one to know, about what life is really like for the Cuban people, and what it means to be truly Cuban. Chanel Cleeton captures more than the essence of Cuba, she brings a country and its passions to life, while showing how to hold empathy even for an enemy, and fury even for a comrade. Next Year in Havana inflames the emotions, from rage at injustice, to peace at the sounds of the sea and the Malecon, and mouth-watering hunger for paella, ropa vieja, and espresso. Our hearts our broken at each loss, each death, yet still, somehow, filled with hope, like a true Cuban. For discussion questions, similar books, or a themed recipe of Mamey cupcakes with coconut frosting, visit http://hub.me/alTob
When We Left Havana is Chanel Cleeton’s story of a family’s ups and downs, throughout two Cuban eras. The author is well-qualified to pen this tale, with the history of her own Cuban and Cuban-American family. The story begins in 1958 and ends in 2017. This book shows how the politics and dangers of Cuba affected the everyday lives and safety of families. Throughout the book, the continuing, common thread is hope. Sometimes the hopes evolve, but always there is hope. There is hope that after Batistia is out of office, there will be better treatment and more freedoms for citizens. Unfortunately, Fidel Castro doesn’t fulfill their hopes; instead things just worsen. The government takes over businesses, and thus famillies lose businesses and legacies to which they devoted time, labor and hearts. With the government in control of inudstries, therre are continuing shortages and long lines. As Marisol’s love interest, Luis, says on page 128, “Cubans do lines bretter than anyone. Lines for bread. Lines for beans….” Luis had many pithy thoughts, including on page 120, where he said, “…For many Cubans, though, something as simple as owning a car is an exercies in all the ways the government can screw you over….” They lose everything they have on this Earth, except for family - and sometimes, with no corroborating proof, family members are imprisoned. Some even lose family members to exexution with NO trials, because they dared to stand up against the “leader” Castro. The hoped-for and promised equality of everyone turned to dust; as the book reminds us, Castro originally promised equality, freedom and elections. Things didn’t go that way. But their hopes remained for the future. The book is a good cautionary tale for those who think that salvation lies in a Socialistic state in which the government takes over the people’s lives- businesses run by government, what kinds of cars they can drive etc. As Marisol’s late grandmother’s childhood friend points out, “Terrible things rarely happen at once…They’re incremental, so people don’t realize how bad things have gotten until it’s too late…." Reading this book is not only a heatworming tale of a special family, but also for those who live in free countries, a reminder of the things we take for granted, that are rarely-experienced luxuries in some Socialist and Communist countries. As Luis points out, there are many everyday changes the Cubans whose families stayed - the Cubans of today - would like to see, just to make their challenging lives in Cuba a little easier. But still, the love of their country never wanes. The book does a good job of showing both the common elements, as well as the differences between the two communities of Cubans - those who chose to stay behind versus those who left for America in what they expected to be a temporary stay. We see both points of view. When the exiles left Cuba, they were not allowed to take personal mementos, so most of what they carried with them of Cuba, would be what they held in their hearts, memories and hopes, and they passed these along to the generations after them. For the exiles in the US, always the hope and plan are to eventually return. On page 13, one family member asks “How long will we be gone?” …"Two months? Six months? A year?” They speak for many Cuban exiles, who never gave up hope of returning to Cuba. When some of them reached the age that would prevent their own return to what they considered their homeland
‘This book is captivating and a good read.
I learned so much about Cuba. And the storyline kept me intrigued.
This is a wonderful book, I loved the way the author blended the past and present day. Very interesting background stories also. Enjoyed it much!
I thought the story started out with potential, but soon turned to be a very silly story. The main character was in Cuba one week and had about a years worth of experiences. The grandfather part was the most ridiculous scenario.
This was a book that had been highly recommended by several bloggers that I follow. I am very glad I read it as it is a part of history that I was not familiar with. The impact those events had on the humans that lived during this time and the generations that followed is sad and heartbreaking. Told using romance added a touch that I loved. The story alternates between Havana in 1958 and Miami in 2017. It is told by Elisa in 1958 and her granddaughter Marisol in 2017. Elisa and the Perez sisters were daughters of a wealthy Cuban sugar baron and were living a luxurious life in Havana. Her parents were part of the elite in Cuba and friends and/or acquaintances of Batista. They were shielded from the horrors of the revolution going on as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara fought the dictator, Batista for control. At least until the family fled Cuba with nothing but one suitcase each and the clothes on their backs. Fast forward to 2017 and Elisa had died. Her granddaughter, Marisol heads to Cuba at her grandmother's request, to spread her ashes in her beloved homeland. Marisol desperately wants to fulfill her wish and experience some of her family roots. She has to determine the best spot to spread the ashes, and as she learns about her family's time in Havana, she learns much more than she bargained for. What she finds out about her mother's love throws her for a loop, and history seems to be repeating itself when she falls for Luis. I enjoyed learning about the Perez family and their lifestyle before the revolution, their anguish after the revolution and their life in the U.S. Marisol grows so much during this story. She is a reporter and how she digs for answers was wonderful, but what she finds and how it changes her is even better. If you have never read about how the Cuban Revolution came about, how it affected Cuba's people, and how they are still dealing with all the poverty and control, then this is a good book to pick up. Yes, it is a romance, but there is a lot more to it.
Loved the way the story goes back and forth between times and characters. Done in a way that is easy to follow. Excellent mix of novel story telling and history. Really enjoyed it.
I loved this! Beautifully written.
Marisol is dumb. She claims “I’m a journalist in me forces me to know the truth “ NO she is not a journalist. She even says that’s she’s not. Most of the time I was just hoping her dumb self would get a bullet at the end. Her family warned her. And the people that she lived with warned her. She could not get it. The love story did not by into it. Happened too fast seemed . Love story was meh. Great story. Marisol is a idiot.
Favorite Quotes: … there’s a faint sheen of gray that adorns the landscape as though the entire city needs a good scrubbing. 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. I feel as though I’ve become a point of curiosity, an exhibit like the island of crocodiles at the Havana Zoo, those mighty animals sunning their backs with contempt for the gawking tourists and locals who point and exclaim over their size. Being a Perez in Havana— one of the sugar queens— is akin to wondering if you should charge admission for the window into your life… There’s a different level of poverty in Cuba that suggests that not only is the deck stacked against you, but someone keeps stealing all the cards. Terrible things rarely happen all at once… They’re incremental, so people don’t realize how bad things have gotten until it’s too late. My Review: I confess to blatant ignorance about Cuba, past or present. Before picking up this exceptionally detailed account, my accumulated knowledge about Cuba was limited to vague memory of the rafters, something about JFK and the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and that Fidel Castro had been an oppressive communist dictator who gave long boring speeches that he forced his citizens to listen to for hours on end in the heat and sun, I remember my severely strict sixth grade teacher fervently pounding that last fact home and later putting on a test. I also have a vivid memory of looking at a picture of the heavily reviled man with an unkempt beard and dressed in green fatigues and a billed cap and thinking him an unhinged monster; an opinion that apparently was deeply imprinted on my gray matter as it has held through to present day. Chanel Cleeton’s highly descriptive and epic story was written in dual timelines and from a dual POV, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition. Sixty-years after her then nineteen-year-old grandmother had fled a dangerous and chaotic Cuba with her family, Marisol takes a trip to Cuba to spread her grandmother’s ashes and hopefully learn about her family history while traveling under the guise of a journalistic junket to gather information for a tourism article about Cuba. Careful what you wish for - she uncovered dark secrets that her beloved grandmother had never hinted it, as well as stunning revelations concerning her family tree. The storylines were lushly detailed and swirling with atmosphere, and could easily be deployed as a fully fleshed-out screenplay. The emotional tone was fraught with tension and heavy with angst. I could have done with about one hundred fewer pages repeatedly outlining the abuses and folly of past and present political systems, as politics are just not my jam. However, the examples of basic day-to-day challenges the politically polarized Cuban citizens endured and continue to struggle with carried considerable more impact for me and were expertly executed. I have been schooled, and in a significantly more entertaining manner than my harsh and unyielding sixth-grader teacher could have ever aspired to.
“ 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. Perhaps we’re the dreamers in all of this; the hopeful ones. Dreaming of a Cuba we cannot see with our eyes, that we cannot touch, whose taste lingers on our palates, with the tang of memory.” “I walk down these streets, and I look out to sea, and I want to feel as though I belong here, but I am a visitor here, a guest in my own country… then you know what it means to be Cuban … we always reach for something beyond our grasp.” This story revolved around Marisol Ferraro and her grandmother, Elisa Perez. As the book begins, Elisa had just passed and in her will, she requested that Marisol disperse her cremated remains back in her beloved home of Cuba. As a wealthy, influential family that supported Batista, the Perez family chose to flee Cuba as Castro rose to power. Elisa was a privileged young woman with great hopes that they would soon be able to return home. However, she spent the remainder of her life in Miami regaling her children and grandchildren with tales of her love for Cuba. “Next year in Havana” is a toast that the family never stopped saying because the dream of returning never came true. The novel tells the parallel stories of Elisa’s last year in Cuba and Marisol’s visit to Cuba. Both women, decades apart, face complicated love stories with ardent revolutionaries and live in perilous political climates that ultimately force them to face what it means to be Cuban. Can one “be of a place” without being “from the place”? Cleeton allows Cuba to shine and be a star character in this novel. She captures and shares its beauty, people, history, customs, fortunes, and misfortunes with great care and devotion. She displays a real passion for Cuba and contrasts the dream of “old Cuba” with the reality of current Cuba. During both decades, the characters dream for a better future and hope to stop being guests in their own country. As a reader, I learned quite a bit about the past and present political climates of Cuba. My one complaint about the novel was that at times it felt too much like a political lecture about Cuba. I suspect the author’s intent with this was to show how important political forces were and are to the Cuban people in terms of shaping their lives and country. Next Year in Havana was an interesting book and definitely worth the read. It was a love story, on multiple levels, combined with a history and politics lesson. It makes the reader both feel and think. Cleeton has another novel about the Perez family coming out in April 2019 titled When We Left Cuba. It follows Elisa’s older sister, Beatriz. I look forward to continuing to read about the family and, of course, Cuba.
I was very fortunate to win a signed copy of this wonderful book through one of the many book groups I belong to on Facebook. I immediately fell in love with this story very early on. Elisa Perez is the daughter of a sugar baron in Havana in 1958. She meets and falls in love with Pablo who is part of the revolutionary. The family has to flee Havana and they settle in Florida. Fast forward to present day when Elisa's granddaughter, Marisol, is asked to take Elisa's ashes to Havana where she will stay with her grandmother's best friend Ana. At Ana's home, Marisol meets Ana's grandson, Luis, and lots of things happen after that. The story alternates between 1958 Havana and Elisa's life to present day Havana and Marisol who begins to discover numerous family secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful book and visiting Cuba has been added to my bucket list. I highly recommend this book.
This book tells it like it was. I was born in Cuba and left there at the age of nine, two years after the revolution. I was taken back to the those days, before we were able to leave. The "don't tell anyone warning", from my parents, once we had decided to leave. Walking around pretending everything was fine, when in fact we were terrified. As much as our parents tried to shield us, we knew life as we had experienced it was about to change. My sister and I were part of the Operation Peter Pan airlifts. My parents had to stay behind, while we flew to the United States and were placed in a Catholic orphanage, until they were able to leave. We left everything behind, our house, car, personal belongings, but most importantly, our family and friends. I never saw my grandmother, aunts , uncles, cousins again. So grateful for my life in this country. Reading this book makes me realize once more how fortunate we were to get out when we did, and that if not for my parents strength my life would have been so different.
Loved this story, have two friends who both left Cuba with their families just as Castro was taking over, both women come from well to do families so had the means of leaving Cuba, so this story really made me think of my dear friends who to this day, after being in America for 60 years still say they want to return to Cuba!