Review of “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton

Cleeton, Chanel. Next Year in Havana. New York: Berkley, 2018.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586662 | 382 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

Next Year in Havana was a surprise, considering I wasn’t that interested in the book when it came out, but a year of consistently hearing about it (and Cleeton’s recent visit to one of the online book clubs I’m in) and the impending release of the follow-up led to me giving into my building curiosity. And, having finished it, I’m pleased to have read it.

I love that, in the sea of historical fiction and time-slip books that involve one or both of the World Wars in some way, this one stands out in dealing with an event that isn’t covered much, perhaps due to it still being somewhat recent in some people’s memory. But I love that Cleeton was able to tap into her own family history for this novel and create a unique and moving story focusing quite a bit on Cuban politics, past and present, without it feeling too heavy handed.

This is also one of the rare dual timeline novels that manages to invest me in both past and present equally, both enjoying the parallels in Marisol and Elisa’s lives as well as seeing them as individuals. Elisa’s is definitely more familiar and even tropey in its sense of being ill-fated, which is often the case for the past arc in stories of this type, but the setting along with her and her love interest, Pablo’s, opposing goals give it a unique slant, inspiring belief in that love even if it is not meant to be.

And while the romance for Marisol has its parallels with Elisa and Pablo’s, I didn’t resonate with it nearly as much. What I really liked was this feeling of discovery of a part of her heritage that she did not feel connected with before, as well as some unexpected revelations about her grandmother and her heritage she did not expect. I think that is something that is relatable for a lot of people born and raised in the U.S. or otherwise outside their family’s country of origin, and I love the way Cleeton captures that feeling of connecting with your roots.

This is a wonderful, moving book, and one I think a lot of people can connect to on some level. So, while it is a book I would recommend if you love historical fiction and want to read something in a different time period, I would also recommend it for those who love stories about family histories and reconnecting with one’s roots.

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