Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Overall I enjoyed this book, though at times I felt it got a bit preachy about the lives of ordinary Cubans.  It's not that I don't respect, and even agree with, the positions set forth by the author through the novelist, it's just that I thought sometimes the character's speeches were a bit too long a drawn out for a novel.  It made some of the dialogue seem less realistic.

Marisol, a 30 something young woman, born in Miami but of Cuban heritage was essentially raised by her paternal grandmother, Elisa, after the divorce of her parents.  When Elisa dies suddenly in her sleep, her will tasks Marisol with taking her ashes to Cuba to be scattered somewhere meaningful.

With only this bit of guidance, and some suggestions by her two living great aunts, Marisol sets out to Havana.  Fortunately she is also a journalist and travels under the guise of writing a tourism piece about Cuba, now that US-Cuban relations are softening.  There she stays with her grandmother's childhood friend, Ana, and is taken under the wing of Ana's grandson, Luis.  Some of the chapters of the book take place in the present as Marisol tours Cuba trying to choose the meaningful place to scatter the ashes.  As she does so she learns more about her grandmother's history in Cuba, including some surprising details.

Other chapters take place when Elisa is 19 living as one of the pampered daughters of a sugar baron prior to the Cuban revolution.  We see the effects of the revolution from her perspective and all that exiled Cubans had to leave behind when they fled the country.  From Ana and Luis's current day perspective we see the equally damaging effects of the revolution on the Cubans who stayed behind.

I learned a lot about the history as well as the current day circumstances of Cuba, with which I was only tangentially familiar.  I also found the family stories engaging and the characters interesting.  I understand there will be a sequel next year which deals with the perspective of one of Elisa's older sisters and I enjoyed this enough to give it a try.

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