Lead Review

  • Book: Next Year in Havana
  • Location: Cuba (Republic of), Havana
  • Author: Chanel Cleeton

Review Author: tripfiction



It is not often that a book comes along that ticks pretty much ALL the boxes. It pulls together a good story together, it is written in fluid prose, with well fleshed out characters and it has consummate intelligence.

It was the July 2018 Reese Witherspoon Hello Sunshine BookClub Choice. In the video on her site the author says of the book that: “…she feels she is travelling to a different place and a different time and this book has transported me…it’s going to make you feel you had a mini vacation….”

The Perez family is one of the wealthy, sugar owning families in Havana in the late 1950s. Sugar and rum brought unimaginable riches to the island. These are, however, the final months of despot Batista’s rule. Revolución is building and Che Guavara and Fidel Castro are amassing their fighters to take over the reigns of power. Elisa is one of the daughters in the family who is the grandmother of Marisol, who now works as a journalist and lives in Florida. Florida is a mere 90 miles from the island.

2017 and Marisol is returning to Havana with her grandmother’s ashes. She has never been to Cuba but having grown up in the Cuban community in Florida, she feels that her heart is embedded in the island. She has to find out more. She stays with Ana, Elisa’s best friend in the day and it is her grandson, Luis, with whom she hooks up to tour the island. Her quest is to find the right place to scatter her grandmother’s ashes.

The author manages the two time lines superbly and each is well fleshed and credible. The history of the island is brought to life in a measured, informed way that is in no way didactic. I came away with more understanding of very difficult times. Move forward to 2017 and the people are still largely in dire straits, even though Fidel has gone. There is still an autocratic, iron rule which targets dissenters and Luis himself is a secret blogger and now that he is seen in the company of a journalist, he has caught the eye of the authorities.

There are two love stories, one set in each era, they are edgy and the Malecón (the esplanade that runs along the sea through Old Havana to Vedado) often forms the backdrop for the liaisons past and present.

There is still a simplicity to everyday life nowadays, something tourists appreciate and rave about but there is also a deeper and distressing level to comprehend – ‘..underneath the historic beauty is a sense of desperation…the beauty of life here – the simplicity of it – is also the tragedy of it’

This is an enriching and absorbing read. There is nothing much more to say other than go and buy it (which of course you can from your favourite bookseller through the TripFiction database!). And, of course, do pick up a copy if you are heading to Cuba. It will bring the island and its history to life through excellent writing and storytelling. A perfect choice for literary wanderlust to Cuba.

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Enter the 2021TripFiction 'Sense of Place' Creative Writing Competition!

A story in which the location plays as important a role as the rest of your words.

2,500 word maximum, 750 word minimum

Judges include Victoria Hislop and Rosanna Ley

First Prize of £1,000 / US$1,350

Prizes total £1,750 / US$2,362 

Winning entry published on TripFiction site and publicised on Social Media

Entries close 6th November 2021