The historical fiction novel Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton is a fascinating look into Cuba before and after Castro comes into power. The novel is told in split timelines with stories about two women in Cuba: one facing a revolution that would tear apart everything she knows, another facing a Cuba she has only heard about in family stories.
In Cuba 1958, Elisa Perez is a nineteen-year-old sugar heiress when she meets Pablo at a dinner party. Their chemistry is immediate and undeniable. It is love at first sight and the relationship is doomed from the start due to Elisa and Pablo coming from different backgrounds. Pablo is a revolutionary and he stands for everything her family is against, and yet neither can walk away from their feelings for each other. When the government is overthrown, Elisa and her family have no choice but to escape to Miami, never to return to Cuba.
In Miami 2017, Elisa’s last wish was to have her ashes spread in Havana, by her granddaughter, Marisol. After arriving in Cuba, Marisol meets Elisa’s best friend Ana and Ana’s grandson, Luis. Marisol learns of Elisa’s past, through letters a secret lover wrote to Elisa, and Marisol discovers that her grandmother had a life she knew nothing about. As Marisol dives deeper into Elisa’s life in Cuba, she discovers many family secrets and finds love for herself.
Next Year in Havana showcases Cuban history and gave me some insight that I didn’t have previously. Over the years, Cubans fought, trading one dictator for another: Batista and then Castro. By interweaving Cuban political history and two love stories, I found this novel to be incredibly beautiful, rich in history, and full of life and love.