Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
I just want to start off by saying that this book is my favorite book I read this summer. It's gorgeous and I learned a ton. It's engaging, and I didn't want to put it down when I had to. Let's not wait until the end- I'll just say right now, I highly recommend it!
Marisol grew up, half-Cuban, in Miami, close to her grandmother who told her stories of her youth in Havana. When her grandmother dies, Marisol takes on the task of taking her ashes to Cuba to scatter. She is a journalist by trade and goes under the guise that she will be writing a piece about visiting Cuba. Although she has heard stories her entire life, she finds things not quite as she expected when she arrives. She quickly befriends the grandson of her grandmother's childhood friend and neighbor, and soon it is apparent there is something more there.
In alternating chapters, we meet Elisa, Marisol's grandmother, and learn about her time in Havana just as the revolution was getting underway. Her father was a wealthy and influential man, and she and her sisters lived a life of protection and security. The revolution stripped them of that, however, and made it dangerous for them to remain. The last few months before they came to America were full of change and the loss of innocence. Their brother, who had been fighting with revolutionary forces, returns to their family and they meet with him in secret, fearing their father's wrath, as he disowned the brother when he joined the cause. Elisa meets a handsome man that she just can't seem to stay away from and they quickly fall in love, but he too is with the revolution and she knows her father wouldn't approve.
As Marisol learns about her grandmother while she's in Cuba, she learns there is much her grandmother hadn't told her. She follows the trail of clues, and uncovers family secrets that Elisa intended to keep hidden.
Gorgeously written, and wonderfully incorporative of historical facts and political information about the Cuban revolution, this book is historical fiction at its finest. I've read a few other books set during this same time period, but none have taught me as much about all the aspects of the revolution as this one. With two romances blossoming, one in each time period, the story kept you engaged without ever turning sappy or trite. Your heart pains at Elisa's plight, and contracts along with Marisol's as she learns about her grandmother's courage and bravery. This one is a triumph.