A visit to Cuban history: Next Year In Havana

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I’ve been lucky enough to escape cold weather waiting in London, going through my unread summer books lately πŸ™‚ This one took me by surprise, so I couldn’t resist writing a review right away. Although it was quite hyped, somehow I didn’t expect this book to affect me this much.

“Havana is like a woman who was grand once and has fallen on hard times, and yet hints of her former brilliance remain, traces of an era since passed, a photograph faded by time and circumstance, its edges crumbling to dust.’

This book is definitely the type of historical fiction I love. It’s set in Cuba & filled with lots of information about history, the location, the culture so that Havana appeared in front of my eyes when I was reading it. Unfortunately, Cuba stayed like a postcard from history because of its regime and the restrictions applied to its people.

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It’s set in Havana in two different times, 1958-59 and 2017. We go back and forth between two narratives. One from Elisa, who is Marisol’s grandmother, and recently passed away. This part of the story represents the past that leads up to the revolution done by Fidel Castro. The other narrative is from Marisol in 2017, when she’s visiting Cuba for the first time to bring back the ashes of her grandmother due to her wish. They escaped to the US in the first days of the revolution, thinking they will come back when things go back to normal.
I think this book does an excellent job of representing Cuban history, people and culture on so many levels. I’m saying this as a beginner to Cuban history though, I didn’t know much except the basics πŸ™‚ The information provided in this book really surprised me positively. I really appreciate how it was woven into the stories of the families and told through different characters. This makes Cleeton a very good historical fiction writer.
I learned so much more about the period that lead to the revolution, the reasons behind it and the results. It touched my heart to read how people suffered under 2 different regimes, one worse than the other. Cleeton reflected these with great emotion seeping through the pages, I was really rooting for Cuban people, especially Elisa and others who were innocently affected majorly.

Cleeton’s structure that has Marisol visit her country for the first time allowed the reader to gave a glimpse into the country from the eyes of a tourist, but a tourist who is actually local. This was a really interesting point of view, because we had the opportunity to see the perspective of a young generation see the realities of new Cuba, how changes were really slow and actually the people still very suppressed. I felt for Marisol who rooted for her country, wanted to love it. But, at the same time, being thankful that she didn’t grow up there without any freedom.
All the characters created in the book actually served different point of views for us to see the reality from different people who experienced the revolution and had a different fate.
Ana, Pablo, Luis, Beatriz…People who were wealthy, but lost everything. Ones who left, ones who stayed. Ones who actually contributed to this change of regime, but saw that it all caused different problems.
I admire this careful construction and cast of characters, so that we could look at the incident more broadly. It also allowed the history of Cuba to be told from the perspective of its people with a lot of emotion and subjectivity, which I loved. Now in my eyes, there’s a romantic Cuba that’s beautiful, full of opportunities, people who are hopeful, etc. But, also there’s a very dark side to Cuba with its lost people, lost generations, lost hopes, still struggling. It’s a very sad example of how people’s ambitions affect a whole population.

Yet, I would love to visit Cuba, I always did. But, this book made me feel even more passionate about it. And, for sure I’ll have more background in my mind that will be valuable while visiting some places.
I was so fascinated by the detailed history and people’s experiences that, probably, the love stories for me were the least important parts of this book. It certainly added some excitement to the story, but for me they weren’t at the center for sure.

My favourite sentence from the book that summarises what happened in Cuba, and its regime is:
“All people are equal, but some are more equal”

Well, eventually the people who claimed they were saving Cuban people from tyranny and bringing them freedom, let them down massively.

Finally, I really liked the writing as well. It was very smooth, flowing nicely. I never wanted to put it down, and read it in a short period of time. There was also a kind of romantic tone to it with beautiful descriptions of nature, food, and ambiance. It was also the perfect length in my opinion, and wrapped up nicely.
If you’re interested in learning history through fiction, if you like romantic stories, books in different settings that give you a glimpse of other cultures, this book is really good. highly recommended. I gave it 4.5 stars.
There’s a sequel to this one called When We Left Cuba, that’s centered around Beatriz, who’s actually one of the most interesting unexploited characters of the book. So, I’m so glad Cleeton wrote the story of her and I’ll definitely pick it up right away.

That’s all from me today. I hope you enjoyed it. As always, I’d love to hear from you if you read this book, or planning to. Happy reading!

Umut


3 thoughts on “A visit to Cuban history: Next Year In Havana

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