Book Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

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Title: Next Year in Havana

Author: Chanel Cleeton

Published: February 2018

Rating: ★★★

Summary: After Marisol’s beloved grandmother passes away, she is sent on an unforgettable and dangerous journey to Cuba to return her grandmother’s ashes to the land she fled 60 years ago. Marisol’s journey opens her eyes and heart to the beauty and struggles of the land she grew up hearing about from her grandmother and great aunts. Marisol’s story is told in tandem with her grandmother’s story during the final days of her wealthy family’s life in Havana.

Thoughts: At first, I was totally into this book. The lush, romantic description of 1950s Havana was delightful. Cuba is a land I know very little about, so this book was eye-opening while it introduced me to this country. The book is told with narration from present-day Marisol’s point of view as well as her grandmother, Elisa’s 1950s point of view. In my opinion, Elisa’s chapters were consistently stronger than those of Marisol. Elisa’s story was compelling and insightful, plus she experienced a sweeping, star-crossed romance that was thoughtful and seemed plausible. Elisa’s wealthy family was the antithesis of Castro’s movement, so to hear about the revolution from her family’s perspective was really interesting. Although I didn’t enjoy Marisol’s contemporary story as much, I did enjoy learning about the dynamic between modern-day Cubans, those who stayed in Cuba and those who fled, both loving Cuba even though they chose different paths. My main issue with Marisol’s story was the romantic story-line. It felt like a cheap add-on. Her romance mirrored her grandmother’s romance, but was inferior and under-developed, so it paled in comparison. Furthermore, it was too similar to her grandmother’s story. Instead of Marisol’s romance complementing her grandmother’s, it felt like I was just reading a trite version of the romance I was reading in the other chapters. This story would have been stronger for me if Elisa was the only perspective told. I would actually really like a sequel to this book, though. I think having one told from Elisa’s sister, Beatrice would be fascinating! I’m curious to find other books about Cuba though, as this book has piqued my interest in those stories.

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