RBCxHS July '18: Next Year in Havana

What could be better than two love stories and a history lesson?

Image Source:  chanelcleeton.com

Image Source: chanelcleeton.com

Chanel Cleeton's novel, Next Year in Havana, is the Reese's Book Club x Hello Sunshine pick for July 2018. It tells the story Marisol Perez, a Cuban-American woman, who travels to Cuba for the first time to spread her Grandmother Elisa's ashes. As Marisol learns more about Cuba and her Grandmother's life there in the 1950's, the timeline alternates between both women and you discover long hidden secrets, learn about the political climate on the island then and now, and fall in love under seemingly impossible circumstances. Marisol struggles with her Cuban identity, the privileges afforded to her by wealth and freedom, and the sacrifices she must make for love.

It is an incredible story with so many parallels between Marisol in 2017 and her Grandmother Elisa in 1958. The love story isn't just between the two women and the men that come into their lives, but also a love story about the main characters and their passion for their country. Cuba itself might be the greatest love interest for all of them. 

My Rating:

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* Spoilers Ahead *

I absolutely loved the dual-timeline and joining Marisol on her journey to discover more about her Grandmother, Cuba, and her family's history. While they're separated by sixty years, Cuba itself has not changed much, and it almost feels like Marisol has traveled back in time. Both her and her Grandmother fall in love with revolutionaries, both face challenges surrounding that love, and both have to make very big decisions and sacrifices. Where Elisa's love was doomed to fail, Marisol's love was given a chance that Elisa's was not afforded. In a way, it feels like Elisa was given a second chance through her Granddaughter, and it makes you wonder whether this part of Elisa's intentions when she asked that her cremains be spread on her home island.

One of the most fascinating parts of this novel is the small history lesson about Cuba. While this is a love story and not a history book, Cleeton does an incredible job painting an image of how politics and Castro affected the lives of Cubans. As I was reading, I found myself pausing to spend a good amount of time on Google because I realized how little I really knew about the island and the struggles. Yes, I knew Castro was a bad guy, but I had no idea that there was someone just as bad in power before him! 

Even more fascinating is discovering that Castro was put into power because he had A LOT of supporters. The normal rhetoric around Castro's name is negative, but you learn that Castro wasn't always the communist dictator that most of us know him as. It was incredible to see the perspective of Pablo, someone intelligent and passionate, who followed Castro and saw him in a favorable light, and truly believed that putting him in power would better the country. We often view the followers of "evil" men as ignorant and I loved that we're shown someone who did not have the benefit of hindsight and who was not an ignorant and blind follower. He was someone who passionately wanted to change his country for the better and was caught in the after math of a very bad decision that originally promised to be his country's salvation. 

After I finished the book, I couldn't stop thinking about my own family's history and the struggles they faced in Mexico. I hope to one day take a similar journey (without the cremains) as Marisol's and visit "la tierra de mi madre" to learn more about what shaped my family and their cultural identity. 

I absolutely loved this book and I look forward to Cleeton's sequel that is coming out next year, When We Left Cuba!

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