I picked up Chanel Cleeton’s Next Year in Havana (BERKLEY 2018) a few months ago because of the cover and the title. While I wish the “Reese’s Book Club” label wasn’t on it, this cover, in particular the colors, is quite captivating; the fact that the story itself outshines the cover is high praise. Next Year in Havana is a delicious historical fiction novel that doesn’t have its heart squeezed out by a heavy-handed romance plot – and that’s my sweet spot for historical fiction.
Running dual timelines, the novel follows Elisa, the 19-year-old daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, who finds herself in love with a revolutionary who stands for everything her family isn’t, and her granddaughter, Marisol, who is going to Cuba to spread her ashes. Elisa raised Marisol, filling her head with the stories and songs of her beloved home. It is Elisa’s wish that her ashes be spread in Cuba. She doesn’t tell Marisol where, only that Marisol will know. Marisol, with her grandmother’s ashes hidden in her luggage, enters the country she feels she already knows only to learn Cuba isn’t exactly like the one in grandmother’s stories and that her grandmother wasn’t exactly the woman she was led to believe.
Elisa had buried her love and her secrets in a box in the same yard her father had buried the family’s riches before fleeing to Florida. Both she and her father hoped to return to claim them one day. Neither would, leaving their secrets to be held by Cuba until delivered to their rightful heir. For Elisa’s box, that’s Marisol. Elisa’s oldest friend (and Marisol’s host) gives her the box that she’d helped Elisa bury so many years ago. With the box, Marisol is given a warning not to judge Elisa too harshly. Confronted with her grandmother’s surprising past, Marisol sets out to find more about the revolutionary who’d claimed her grandmother’s heart.
This is the story of two people from different sides of a revolution who fell in love in 1958. In 2017, the domino effect of that love is finally realized. It’s a love story, but it’s also story of Cuba and family. It’s a story of revolution and displacement. It’s a story of secrets and survival.
It’s a lovely read.