Next Year In Havana

Chanel Cleeton | Cuba

In 1958 in Cuba, Elisa is 19 and a wealthy heiress to a fortune in sugar. Her family is at the top of Cuba’s elite society and has close ties to the president, Baptista. But there is—and has been for many decades—economic, political, and social strife in Cuba. But it’s not until Elisa meets a young lawyer at a party, coupled with growing unrest that threatens her family’s way of life, that Elisa no longer ignores what’s happening around her.

In 2017 Marisol is on her first trip to Cuba to fulfill the last wish of her grandmother and to find out more about the country she was taught so much about from her great-grandfather and great aunts who fled Cuba for Miami in the late 1950’s. But prying will get her and others around her in trouble with the Cuban authorities.

Told through two points of view, one past and one present, Elisa and Marisol slowly converge this story through uncertainty, political unrest, and financial scarcity, to present day Cuba that has been romanticized by Elisa to the point of being unrecognizable to Marisol, based on the stories she has been told in her childhood.

Although Cleeton doesn’t go into detail about the history of the political situation in Cuba, she uses the wealthy Perez family to show the consequences of being associated with Baptista, and the decisions Elisa’s parents made to preserve their wealth and safety.

Various characters were used to symbolize the hardship, poverty, and injustice happening in Cuba, but I found it hard to feel sympathy for the Perez family since their flight was solely for self-preservation and while living in Cuba, the betterment of others was never a priority. During Baptista’s rule they prospered and even disowned their own who went against Baptista.

For me Cleeton did a good job of balancing the multiple love stories—without making it nauseating—with the real pain this family experienced with leaving and with Marisol uncovering family secrets decades later. And though the ending got wrapped with a bow, I think it had enough uncertainty for it to diverge either good or bad for the characters.

“How do you gain any power in a world where a few control all of it if you aren’t willing to wrest that power from them?”

-Chanel Cleeton

First published: 2008
Instagram: @chanelcleeton

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