Book Review: Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Book Review: Next Year In Havana by Chanel Cleeton (2017) 4 Stars ****

Modern day Cuban-American journalist and Coral Gables, Florida resident Marisol Ferrera promises her recently deceased grandmother, Elisa, that after her death Marisol will scatter her grandmother’s ashes at a place that she believes to be her grandmother’s most heart-felt location in her beloved homeland, Havana, Cuba. Marisol embarks on a journey of discovery as she uncovers secrets about her family, especially her grandmother, the history of revolution in Cuba, and the heart-breaking conditions under which the Cuban people live.

Marisol now views Cuban history through the eyes of her Cuban relatives and her handsome, educated lover who live in fear for their safety and well-being. As Batista is driven from power in the 1950s, revolutionary Fidel Castro is believed by many to be the antidote to the poisonous rule of the previous dictator. Pretending to be what he is not, Fidel Castro curries favor with segments of the Cuban population and the American government in order to attain his goal of absolute power as he quickly imposes the doctrines of communism on his hapless people, utilizing death squads, imprisonment, and torture to squash all criticism. Instead of restoring Cuba to the 1940 Constitution as originally promised, Castro imposes the Fundamental Laws.

Marisol witnesses the emotionally charged tug of war between those who stayed and those who left which continues to this day. Marisol’s heart breaks as she sees  the conditions under which her relatives are living. Poverty, near starvation, food rationing, forbidden religious observance, and inequality of currency conversions and educational opportunities plague Cuba. Marisol learns to act covertly to offer aid to her family who are not able to trust government, media, neighbors, friends and even other family members. Marisol vows to return to Cuba the following year to continue to do whatever she can to change the plight of her relatives and those who stayed.

No story set in Cuba could exist without flowery romantic language, descriptions appealing to the five senses, stirring music, a heroic love interest, false imprisonment, violent arrests, the rebuilding of family ties, and an understanding of social injustice that prevails on this island located 90 miles off Key West, Florida.

Many of the Cubans who left “the island that can break your heart” moved to Miami, Florida where most have prospered in their adopted country. As is often the case, the wealthier have the means to leave while the poorer do not.

Readers will hear the urgent request to help encourage Cuba to institute social and governmental changes so those who left may freely return to family and lives left behind, and those who stay may have an improved quality of life affording them basic dignity in their struggle for food, education, and political choices. American embargoes have only served to hurt the populace as the corrupt government officials are not negatively impacted.

After the death of Fidel Castro, his brother, Raul, took over the running of the government while continuing Fidel’s policies. Cuba needs help.

The story is poignant, but repetitious of facts, descriptions, and conversations. Marisol frequently asks herself a barrage of questions but whole paragraphs of internal musings would better be presented as statements. These techniques decrease, thankfully, in the second half of the book.

The author, Chanel Cleeton, lives in the US and has a BA in International Relations, and MS in Global Politics, and a JD from the University of South Carolina School of Law. Ms. Cleeton devotes her education and her life to improving social justice.


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I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

May 2020
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